- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

War in Iraq looks more and more like a sure thing. The split between the United States and its critics in Europe has deepened since Secretary of State Colin Powell made his case to the U.N. Security Council, but that won't prevent the Bush administration from launching an attack. And Mr. Powell said last week it will come in "weeks, not months."
But there is still a way that this showdown could end peacefully. President Bush has put a gun to Saddam Hussein's head, and no one doubts that in the near future, he will be happy to pull the trigger. So there is only one other choice left to the Iraqi dictator: capitulation.
No one seems to regard that as a possibility. But judging from his past, it would not be a total surprise to see Saddam choose humiliation and survival over death and glory.
To do that, though, he will need the cooperation of the Bush administration. The president has made it absolutely clear that if Iraq doesn't disarm, Saddam will be destroyed. What he hasn't made quite so plain is that if Saddam does finally choose to give up all his weapons of mass destruction, he will be allowed to survive. The latter would be the best outcome removing what the administration regards as an intolerable threat, but without the ordeal of war. And it's more plausible than exile, which would require Saddam to place his life precariously in the hands of a foreign government.
There are signs he is looking for just this exit. Last week, in a reversal, Iraq began letting Iraqi scientists meet U.N. weapons inspectors without a government official present. Monday, it agreed to let U-2 spy planes fly over the country unmolested, and it has indicated it will meet another demand by passing legislation allowing inspectors to stay for the long haul.
Maybe Saddam is making small concessions to distract from the big issue disarmament. But maybe he's inching toward a full-scale retreat. Believe it or not, he has tried that before.
In the weeks leading up to the 1991 Gulf war, Saddam adamantly refused to relinquish his conquest of Kuwait. But once the U.S. began its air campaign in January, his attitude changed.
By mid-February, Iraq was looking for a way to escape the ground assault that was coming. On Feb. 21, notes University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape in his book, "Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War," Saddam accepted a Soviet plan requiring Iraq's "full and unconditional withdrawal" from Kuwait. When President Bush balked at the lack of a timetable, Iraq offered to be out in 21 days.
Former National Security Council staffer Kenneth Pollack says Saddam was not playing games. "He had become so desperate that he was genuinely trying to get his army out of Kuwait intact," says Mr. Pollack in his book "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq."
But the U.S. wouldn't agree. It insisted he could have only a week to pull out in effect, telling him he could keep his army but would have to leave his military equipment behind. "Far from wanting Saddam to withdraw," writes Mr. Pape, "American leaders by mid-February appear to have sought to prevent the withdrawal of his army."
Gen. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Gulf commander, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, that the administration was deathly afraid the Soviet peace plan would avert a war. "My president wants to get on with this thing," he declared.
Saddam is above all a master of survival. You don't gain control of a brutal police state and keep it for three decades without a keen instinct for self-preservation. He showed it during the Gulf war, when he chose to leave his chemical and biological weapons on the shelf rather than invite complete devastation. He showed it again afterward, when everyone expected him to be overthrown. If he sees that he can survive this time by giving up his forbidden arsenal and only by giving up his forbidden arsenal he may seize the chance.
That outcome would not please quite everyone. Administration hawks are after regime change, not mere disarmament. They don't want Saddam Hussein defanged; they want him dead. Their preference is understandable. But it would be criminal if the administration spurned the chance to solve the central problem without the grave perils of invasion and occupation.
If Mr. Bush is hoping to force Saddam into submission, he has handled this showdown perfectly. But he has to be prepared to take yes for an answer. The best wars, after all, are those you win without a fight.

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