Testimony by Morton H. Halperin on Iraq

July 31, 2002

Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.

Statement of Morton H. Halperin

Senior Fellow

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Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

Council on Foreign Relations

before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Mr. Chairman,

It is an honor and a privilege to be asked to be part of these historic hearings. I commend you and your colleagues for conducting them and for insisting that if we are to initiate military action this will require extensive public debate and a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force – absent proof that Iraq was involved in 9/11 or is planning an imminent military attack on another country. You have asked me and the others on this panel to focus on options. I will do that leaving it to others to discuss the equally serious issues of what we do the day after we win the war.

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Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Disarmament

There are in my view only two realistic options given the nature of the threat and the realities of the situation. These are: what I would call, containment plus: and military operations against Iraq. Let me first discuss what containment plus would look like and what its pros and cons are and then comment on military options.

I start where we all start with the simple proposition that Saddam Hussein is a dangerous man and that the brutal regime, which he ruthless controls with unspeakable terror and total disregard for the well being of his people, is a threat to his neighbors including Israel and to the United States. The most serious threat is that he would use weapons of mass destruction against his people or neighboring countries or that he would supply them to terrorists who might attack anywhere in the world. Thus, we must ask about any option what is the likelihood that it would reduce the risk of such attacks, and at what cost.

Containment Plus

This strategy would build on the new sanctions regime which the United Nations Security Council adopted earlier this year at the strong urging of the United States. Its goal would be to tighten the economic embargo of material that would assist Iraq in its weapons of mass destruction and other military programs as well as reducing Iraq’s receipt of hard currency outside the UN sanctions regime. At the same time we would seek to strengthen the deterrence of Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction or their provision to terrorist groups by pressing for the return of UN inspectors and building international consensus for military action with UNSC sanction if Iraq crosses this line.

The option of containment plus would also involve continued support to Iraqi opposition groups inside Iraq and outside and a willingness to provide as much assistance as these groups can effectively use. It would also involve determined efforts to develop a consensus among Iraqi groups, including the Kurds, and the countries of the region about the nature of the future Iraq state and its relations to its neighbors.

Rather than pressing states that border Iraq to provide base rights for unilateral military action against Iraq we would be pressing them to end the smuggling and trade in violation of the UN embargo and assist them in monitoring their borders and the flow of material into and out of Iraq. We would provide serious economic assistance to make up for the revenue that these states lose as a result of the embargo and we would work with them and the UN to insure that humanitarian assistance flows to Iraq. We would institute a serious public diplomacy campaign with real resources so that publics around the world understand that it is the policies of the Iraqi regime and not the embargo which is causing humanitarian disaster in Iraq.

Paradoxically, the Bush Administration’s known inclination to initiate military operations would make it much easier to get the support that the United States would need to make this policy effective. Other states are likely to cooperate because of their fear that the alternative is war.

Will containment plus succeed? I think there is a good chance that the policy implemented vigorously will continue to deter Saddam from using weapons of mass destruction or supplying them to terrorist groups. Since the end of the Gulf War his policies have been aimed at maintaining himself in power in Iraq. He can have no doubt that crossing these lines would mean his swift removal from office.

How long it will take for containment plus to bring about regime change is impossible to say. At some point, despite the terror, Saddam will be removed from power as the Iraqi people act on the understanding that their lives cannot improve as long as he is in power. I see no reason for us to have to put a time limit on this. As long as the embargo is made to work and the alliance against Saddam is being strengthened we can and should be patient.

Military Action

It appears that each day we are treated to another leak of a proposed military strategy to bring down the Iraqi regime. I do not claim the expertise to evaluate the alternative military proposals. I would argue, however, that in evaluating this option we must be ready to face the most serious consequences. We can all hope for a very short and immaculate war with very few casualties and an orderly transfer to an interim regime which runs the country with ease. However, it would be the height of irresponsibility to count on that and to choose this option with confidence that this scenario will come to pass.

If we choose this course we must deploy to the regime sufficient military forces to defeat the Iraqi army on the battlefield and in combat in Baghdad. We must be ready to accept substantial casualties on our own military forces and those of any allies that join in the attack and also on the civilian population of Iraq and of neighboring countries including Israel. We must acknowledge the risk that weapons of mass destruction and chemical weapons will be used against our troops and against civilians.

We must also be ready to occupy the country and to stay for a significant period of time coping at great cost with a range of security and economic problems.

There can be no question that the financial cost of this option would be enormous. We are entitled to know what the budget costs are and whether we will pay for them with larger deficits, new taxes, or drastic cuts in domestic spending. We also must accept the risk that oil prices will escalate and that there could well be a sharp decline in the value of the dollar.

Finally, we need to debate the costs of actually implementing the new policy of pre-emption that the President has announced. It is not clear to me if the administration is arguing that the policy is consistent with our obligations under the UN Charter or if he is saying that we cannot be bound by that commitment. Either approach has very profound implications and moves us away from what has been the effort of every American president since Truman to explain how our use of force is consistent with the Charter and reinforces our efforts to prevent other nations from using force.

All of these costs and risks may be worth taking but I do not see that the case has yet been made. As we begin the public debate about this option we are entitled to insist that the administration calculate these costs and make those calculations public and that it explain why this price is worth paying.

In considering the pros and cons of the two options we must ask first and foremost about its impact on the likelihood of terrorist attacks on Americans (and other innocent civilians) in the United States and around the world. I think a very compelling case can be made that even the successful implementation of this option with relatively small direct costs would increase the risk of terrorist attacks directed at the United States. I think this is so for two reasons.

First, especially if there is no progress on the Palestinian issue, it is likely that an American military conquest of Iraq will lead many more people in the Arab and Muslim world to choose the path of terror and to be willing to take part in terrorist activity. Given that we do not have evidence of significant support by Iraq for terrorist plotting to kill Americans and given the likely reaction to an American attack we must insist on the administration explaining the rationale and the evidence for the belief that taking out Saddam reduces the risk of terrorist attacks.

Second, and in my view, even more important, is the opportunity cost of this focus – only with great effort do I resist saying obsession – on military action against Iraq. This administration, any administration, can only do so many things at one time. The attention of top leaders is the most scarce resource but there are also limits on what can be asked of allies and other countries and of the Congress and the American public. And there are limits on how much we can spend. In my view we should be devoting these scarce resources to nurturing the world-wide coalition against terrorism, to settling disputes between Israel and the Palestinians and between India and Kashmir, in helping Indonesia, Nigeria and other countries cope with ethnic and religious conflict, in staying the course in Afghanistan, in helping to reduce poverty in the developing world, and in altering our own procedures at home for dealing with terrorist threats.

These are daunting but urgent tasks much more central to reducing the risk of terrorist attacks than the early removal of Saddam. We should, in my view, allow containment plus to keep him in his box while we work creatively on these more urgent tasks.

Mr. Chairman, in a way these very hearings are a reflection of the way the administration’s determination to go to war against Iraq has forced a distortion in the issues that we should be debating. However, given the administration’s focus there was no choice. If we are to go to war we must first have the public debate and the congressional authorization which our constitution legally requires and which the health of our democracy demands.

I commend the committee for holding these hearings, I thank you for the honor of being invited to participate, and I await your questions.

Dr. Halperin is also Director of the Washington Office of the Open Society Institute and the Open Society Policy Center. The views expressed are his own. He served as Director of the Policy Planning Staff in the State Department, 1998-2001

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