- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

For those of us who served in Vietnam, the slogan "winning the hearts and minds of the people" is an odious reminder of the hubris that helped lose that war. But back then, politicians wanted to believe that beyond American military power, its altruistic virtues and democratic values would help rally the South Vietnamese to defeat the North and its Viet Cong allies. We all know what happened. And we lost far more than simply hearts and minds.
Today, another serious battle over winning hearts and minds is unfolding, this time inside the White House. The stakes could be far greater than Vietnam. The immediate issue is whether it will be war to finish disarming Iraq of all of its mass destruction weapons capability by ending the regime of Saddam Hussein. And this fight is over only one set of hearts and minds that belonging to President George W. Bush.
In his heart, the president believes Saddam is evil, that left in power, he will obtain the most destructive of weapons and somehow these will migrate to terrorists who will use them. Adding intellectual weight to the president's instincts are key advisors including Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and political yoda Karl Rove. They and other so-called "neo-conservatives" argue that eliminating Saddam's regime will have highly salutary effect elsewhere in the region, in the war against terror and might actually convince North Korea of American resolve in dealing with its adversaries, a strategic variant of "one-stop shopping."
Those who counsel relying on the "mind" and harder-headed logic to make this most serious of decisions take their lead from Secretary of State Colin Powell. Characterized as "the reluctant warrior" and often mislabeled as the administration's leading "dove," Powell believes that there is an alternative to war, namely permanent containment by forging a UN-led, international coalition to complete the disarmament process through either intrusive inspections or sanctions all buttressed by the option to use force. And. if those means fail, war may or will follow. But not yet.
In this fight for the president's heart and mind, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld is always identified as a leading "hawk." No doubt, the defense chief is in that camp. However, Rumsfeld is too experienced not to appreciate the dangers of military action. As a Navy pilot, he faced the day-to-day risks of flying off carriers. As a young midshipman, he was on a training cruise aboard the battleship USS Wisconsin when she went aground in New York harbor because of a defective anchor chain an act of nature, but a grounding nonetheless. So, as the great military writer Clausewitz noted two centuries ago, Rumsfeld knows that in battle even the simplest of tasks can go horribly awry.
Hence, Mr. Bush must have been briefed on the unintended consequences of a war with Iraq and the potential downsides of conflict. Still, many observers and politicians believe that Bush's heart and instincts rather than a cooler assessment of what path to take will win out. Time will tell and time is running out. The U.N. will receive the next report on the weapons inspectors' progress on January 27th from Dr. Hans Blix, UNOVIC's chief inspector.
But who of any of the above will carry the day in persuading the president what to do? The answer is probably none of them. The final arbiter of war or peace most likely resides in Baghdad. It is Saddam Hussein.
Two weekends ago, Powell filled the Sunday morning TV talk shows over the topic of North Korea and its nuclear ambitions. Largely overlooked was his comment about Iraq. Powell noted on each of the five programs that if Iraq eliminated all of its mass destruction capabilities permanently, that would constitute a "regime change." In other words, by divesting himself of these terrible agents, Saddam would be making a profound change in the nature and conduct of his regime.
To be sure, critics and contestants for the president's heart complain this line is purely "wordsmithing," not genuine change. However, Powell's comments give Saddam a way to preserve his regime and most probably his life. The crucial question is will Saddam chose to take that opening and in essence create an "exit" strategy for the president that avoids war.
To comply with Powell's gambit requires Iraq to come clean and accept the burden of proof by showing it no longer possesses weapons of mass destruction as well as that it is prepared to treat its people more humanely. Saddam may harbor no intentions of doing either. But the irony and reality is that Saddam's choice will ultimately determine who wins the battle over the president's heart and mind and, thus, whether it will be war or peace.

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