October 12, 1994, Wednesday, Final Edition
Saddam Won't Just Fight The Same
War Over Again
*BYLINE:* Jim Hoagland
*SECTION:* EDITORIAL; PAGE A23
*LENGTH:* 810 words
President Clinton has responded with splendid resolve to Iraq's military thrusts toward Kuwait. But
Clinton and his generals should not simply prepare to refight
the last war. Saddam Hussein won't.
Saddam is not likely to wage the war he has in mind for Clinton only in the
deserts of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti frontier. The Iraqi dictator has openly warned
this president to yield to his demands or face terror attacks on the United States
and its allies.
It is not true that Saddam is completely irrational or
unpredictable, as many in the West assume. He manipulates the politics of brute
force better than most leaders. And as he did in the spring and summer of 1990,
before he invaded Kuwait,
Saddam is again broadcasting the steps he intends to take if his threats go
On Sept. 27, Saddam promised in a speech to his followers
that he would not stand by and allow Iraqis "to die of hunger"
because of U.N. sanctions. The speech was immediately analyzed by Baghdad newspapers under
his direct control. They asked if the United States really failed to
understand "the meaning of every Iraqi becoming a missile that can cross
to countries and cities?" Saddam's scribes went on to warn the world
community in these terms in the following days:
"When peoples reach the verge of collective death they
will be able to spread death to all." And: "The patience of the Arabs
and Muslims is about to reach its end and people have now started to prepare
for hot confrontations in more than one country and continent."
Empty Iraqi rhetoric intended to influence the U.N debate on
lifting sanctions? Or real threats that Saddam will try to execute? America's only answer can be to hope for the
former and prepare for the latter --especially as sketchy evidence suggests
that the Iraqis may have already put in motion terrorist networks in America.
But that evidence and the threats coming out of Baghdad had not engaged the Clinton
administration, preoccupied at home, in Haiti and elsewhere, before last
weekend. My guess is that Saddam has moved his Republican Guard units through
the desert to focus Clinton's attention on the dangers
still poses and on the deal that would avoid them.
Do not be surprised, or deceived, if Saddam now indicates
that he will lower the tensions he has created and recognize Kuwait's
frontier, the major remaining hurdle he has to clear to get sanctions lifted.
In Saddam's mind recognizing Kuwait would be a meaningless
commitment that he could reverse when the circumstances change. He has over the
years signed and torn up treaties fixing Iraq's
border with Iran
in the Shaat al Arab estuary as his needs dictate.
For Saddam, Iraq's
frontiers are etched in blood shed in battle, not in ink scrawled on treaties.
That is why he will be a threat to his neighbors as long as
he and his Ba'ath party survive in power. Bush and
his generals, Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf, continued to underestimate
Saddam when they made the political decision to let him recover key Republican
Guard divisions from the Kuwait
theater and stay in power at the end of Operation
administration was also taking for granted Saddam's greatly weakened state
until this new wake-up call. At the Justice Department there has been no
aggressive pursuit of the many loose ends created by Iraqi penetration and
manipulation of U.S.
banks in the Bush years. More surprisingly, Justice has dragged its feet in
pursuing Abdul Rahman Yassin, an American citizen of
Iraqi origin who fled to Baghdad after being
questioned about his role in the bombing of New York's World Trade Center 19 months ago.
The Yassin case and Iraq's potential involvement in the World Trade Center blast have been pursued more diligently by
Laurie Mylroie, a perceptive analyst and writer on Iraq,
than by the U.S.
government. Mylroie has concluded that the New York attack may have been part of a broad
revenge campaign by Saddam that included the plot to assassinate
President Bush in Kuwait in April 1993.
That is why Mylroie picked up on the recent rush of
threatening statements in the Baghdad
media much more quickly than did government counterterrorist agencies, which
have not assigned a high priority to countering Saddam's operatives here. The
Iraqis were unable to mount terror operations during Desert Storm, the
government agencies recall.
Why would they try now?
There can be no excuse of misreading Saddam again. The
counterterrorist agencies need to make Iraq their top urgent priority. Iraq's coercive
diplomacy cannot be rewarded with a deal on sanctions. Clinton, who ordered a
one-shot retaliatory raid on Baghdad
for the Bush plot, needs to emphasize consistently to all government
departments, not just the
Pentagon, that Saddam's survival is a continuing threat to
American interests at home and abroad.