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Iraq: U.S. Shoulders Responsibility For Forcing Compliance

Washington, 18 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. and British air strikes against Iraq are necessary and are being led by the only country in the world with enough military capability to do the job effectively.

That is the opinion of several U.S. scholars, researchers and former military and political leaders interviewed by RFE/RL on Thursday.

Geoffrey Kemp, a Middle East advisor to former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, says the U.S. had no choice but to launch major military strikes after Iraq's latest round of uncooperative actions with U.N. weapons inspectors.

The responsibility for forcing Iraq to live up to its international agreements fell to the U.S., says Kemp, because there is simply no other nation in the world that can make Iraq comply.

"I mean, it is all very well for France and Russia and China to criticize the U.S. and Britain for bombing, but what would they do? Would they allow Saddam Hussein to rearm? If he defies the U.N., what would they do? This man really does only understand force. Absent a commitment by the U.N. to raise a major military capability to replace or supplement the U.S., there is simply no substitute for American military power at this time."

But Kemp, who is currently the Director of Regional Studies at the Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom in Washington, acknowledges that a long-term military campaign, including one of so-called "military containment," may prove to be increasingly controversial within the region. However, he says Iraq's actions gave the U.S. little recourse.

Kemp says that without the U.N. weapons inspections, Iraq would be left to develop and possibly use weapons of mass destruction against other nations in the region. He adds that while military air strikes cannot remove all of Iraq's capabilities for developing weapons of mass destruction, it can certainly contain them.

"Leaving aside the appalling conditions under which ordinary Iraqis live, and the fact that they are under the thumb of a brutal dictator, the reality is that a weakened Saddam Hussein cannot threaten his neighbors. Ultimately, what the U.S. is trying to prevent, or otherwise contain, is Iraq's capability to once more invade a neighboring country and ultimately impose Iraqi will on the rest of the Gulf, possibly with the possession of weapons of mass destruction."

Bryan Bender, an analyst at Jane's Defense Weekly in Washington, agrees, telling RFE/RL that from a purely military standpoint, the U.S. is the only nation in the world able to contain Iraq.

Bender says that after Iraq again refused to cooperate with U.N. inspectors, the U.S. and Great Britain came to the reasonable conclusion that the inspectors "were simply going to be unable to accomplish anything Iraq didn't want them to."

Bender says complaints by some nations that the U.S. did not submit the action to a U.N. Security Council review, are ludicrous.

"We have to keep in mind that about a month ago, back in November when the U.S. basically called off a strike at the last minute, President Bill Clinton and other U.S. officials were very clear that this was Iraq's last chance. And should he not cooperate this time, the U.S. did not feel it needed to consult with the U.N. again. It wanted to be able to act quickly, swiftly and with significant force."

William Taylor, Director of Political and Military Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told RFE/RL that Iraq should not underestimate the U.S.'s military and political resolve.

Taylor, who is also a retired Army colonel says this time around, the U.S. will likely focus many of its attacks directly against Saddam's power base. This means targeting the elite Republican Guard units and security police headquarters and forces, in addition to regular military targets.

Taylor says the U.S. should not worry about criticism from France and Russia.

"Let's step back and look at the French and Russian perspective. They have billions of dollars tied up in Iraq that Saddam Hussein owes them. They want the Iraqi oil fields open and they want the payback of those billions of dollars. But we aren't going along with that, and Britain isn't going along with that either."

William Odom, Director of National Security Studies at the Hudson Institute in Washington, told RFE/RL that he believes the attacks will not significantly harm U.S. relations with other Gulf state nations.

He says most of the moderate Arab countries, especially Iraq's neighbors, have long ago reached the view that Saddam Hussein will have to answer for his own actions.

Odom also reiterated that the U.S. military is alone in its capability to effectively fight and contain Iraq.

"I don't see another air force or military that could take the lead effectively against Iraq. I don't think many people realize the enormous gap between U.S. military capability and the military capability of any other country or coalition in the world. Even Europe's forces together -- those NATO countries without the U.S. -- are very limited in what they can do. They have significant number of operational units, but they don't have the intelligence systems, the control systems, the strategic ability to move and operate the way the U.S. military does....Unfortunately, that means this burden falls squarely on the shoulders of the U.S."