- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

STANFORD, Calif. —Former Secretary of State George Shultz says U.S. military forces are being stretched too thin across the globe and that, at some point, we will need to pull some of them back.

As our troop buildup continues in the Persian Gulf in preparation for a possible war in Iraq a confrontation Mr. Shultz fully supports he says "there are limits to what we can do" militarily in the world, suggesting a need to reassess our force deployments abroad.

"At some future point the U.S. will need to reconfigure our forces and our capabilities in light of these new priorities" and begin withdrawing from some of our bases worldwide, he says.

"But we need to have some word other than 'withdraw,' " he added during an interview in his office at the Hoover Institution.

Talk of withdrawal could send the wrong signal to both friend and foe alike if we began pulling out of, for examples, Europe, Okinawa or Kosovo. Yet there is no doubt we are overextended (even Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld thinks so) and the prospects of keeping tens of thousands of additional troops in Iraq only adds to that burden.

Mr. Shultz, Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, strongly supports U.S. plans to disarm Saddam Hussein. He also thinks Iraq's efforts to build nuclear weapons is a much more pressing concern than the few, limited nuclear weapons that North Korea now has in its possession.

Still, he is among those who maintain that if we go into Iraq and he believes we will we must do it with a large, coordinated coalition of allies resolved to crush Iraq's military capabilities once and for all.

Disarming Iraq and then going about the task of rebuilding the country and installing a democratic government "is a big deal." Mr. Shultz says. "We are perfectly capable of doing it. But we should be leading a coalition. We shouldn't be doing this ourselves."

Of course, we are not exactly doing this ourselves. We have the active military support of Great Britain and a number of other countries. We have won the unanimous support of the U.N. Security Council in its disarm-or-else resolutions, which demands the complete elimination of Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Some of our allies are holding back until the U.N. inspection team finds the chemical and biological weapons that we know are hidden away in Saddam's bunkers. Mr. Shultz doesn't doubt that Saddam has such weapons.

So, when the U.S. order is given to go in, Mr. Shultz says, "then people will be on board. If there is a clear U.N. Security Council statement, then everybody will be on board." The new focus in this cat-and-mouse game that Saddam is playing with us is the preliminary inspection report that will be presented to the U.N. Security Council on Jan. 27. A more complete report is due in March.

There are those who believe that this report will be the final word in this matter. In fact, the administration is prepared to act, no matter what the report says.

"We know things," Mr. Shultz says cagily. "There is information around." This means the United States possesses certain intelligence showing Iraq is in violation of the U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing military action, and that this information will be revealed at the appropriate time.

"You don't have to show everything. You only have to show one thing" to demonstrate that Iraq is lying when it says it has no weapons of mass destruction, he says with great emphasis.

In other words, in this cat-and-mouse game Saddam has played so many times before, the strategic reality is that he is the mouse and we are the cat. The U.N. inspectors are merely well-intended bit players in this unfolding drama.

Meantime, the situation in North Korea is certainly serious, but not so serious as it has been portrayed and one that skillful statecraft can deal with, Mr. Shultz says. His hard-line advice this time: "Don't pay them off." The problem with North Korea goes back to the Clinton gang who let former President Jimmy Carter "produce a weak deal," he says.

In March 1993, North Korea threatened to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. President Clinton bought into its threats and agreed to deal, sending Mr. Carter to Pyongyang in June 1994 to cut an agreement with Kim Il-sung one month before Mr. Kim died.

In that deal, the Clinton administration agreed to allow the construction of two nuclear power plants in North Korea and to give them fuel oil. Later, we found out they were cheating on the agreement that an all-too-trusting Mr. Carter had worked out.

That deal was based on the idea that "if you do something bad, we will pay you to stop doing it, or to say you are going to stop doing it," Mr. Shultz says.

"It teaches a very bad lesson. It taught the North Koreans that if they do something bad, they'll get paid off. A lot of people were suspicious of that deal. The Bush administration turned out to be right to be skeptical about that accord," he says.

So here we are again several years later, with North Korea pulling the very same thing, hoping no doubt we will buy them off once more.

Their hopes may be realized. President Bush on Tuesday offered to give North Korea food and fuel if they would end their nuclear weapons buildup. And so it goes .

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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