REGIME CHANGE IS POSSIBLE IN IRAQ WITHOUT WAR
By James O'Brien
James C. O'Brien was senior advisor to the U.S. secretary
of State during the Clinton administration.
WASHINGTON -- Is war with Iraq inevitable?
Right now, it looks so. Make no mistake -- if President George W. Bush
is confident that Saddam Hussein poses a threat to America or our allies,
he has a duty to act.
The problem is that the president has given himself a choice between war
The flaws in the U.N. inspections are evident. U.N. inspectors cannot
guarantee our safety, no matter how many Iraqi scientists they interview.
Even if the inspectors could uncover all Iraq's weapons in the next few
months, once American forces started to leave the Gulf, Saddam -- empowered
by having survived yet another challenge -- would again create nuclear,
chemical and biological weapons.
Seen in this light, the case for war must seem clear to the president.
Our troops are almost in position and will win once conflict starts. International
criticism of the administration is disappearing as Saddam continues to
lie. A quick win may even strengthen the administration as it gathers
itself to confront North Korea.
But it could also leave us with a war we do not need (if Saddam in fact
poses little threat), at a time when other threats (like Al Qaeda, whose
leadership remains at large, and North Korea) demand attention, and another
long-term commitment could be costly and dangerous.
In the face of these risks, the president's decision to go to war should
not be made without a real choice. He should demand that his advisors
create a viable third option.
If the administration proceeds carefully, it can create broad international
support for policies that will create regime change in Iraq soon and without
The policy could have several elements, probably enshrined in a new U.N.
Security Council resolution. Some components could be:
-- Control Saddam's money. Regime change will follow the money. Despite
stringent U.N. sanctions on trade and investment, Saddam has money at
his disposal. The international community should tighten controls, for
example on discounts given on equipment and services in exchange for oil
contracts or lines of credit made available (legally or not) in return
for an interest in Iraqi oil.
Experts with access to intelligence information will have to work out
details, but it may be enough to investigate long-term oil and food contracts;
to insist that revenues from smuggling be paid into accounts controlled
by the United Nations; and to find ways to shut off Baghdad's banking
ties. Saddam may be able to hide cash-and-carry deals, but credit is the
backbone of any modern state. Dictatorships like those of Slobodan Milosevic
(toward whose regime I coordinated U.S. policy) and Suharto collapsed
within months after they lost access to the international banking and
-- Destroy suspected weapons sites. Coalition aircraft do not now strike
weapons sites throughout Iraq. They should. Saddam could avoid these strikes
if he allowed international inspectors free access. This threat is sustainable:
air forces can remain long after ground troops leave; coalition aircraft
have flown over Iraq for 12 years already.
-- Build democracy. It is naive to insist on nationwide democracy until
Saddam is gone. Kurdish and Shia areas, however, should receive extensive
international support for democratic local institutions, including U.N.
and other help to conduct elections and improve government performance.
They should also receive international assistance to replace Saddam's
security services with law enforcement compatible with democracy and clear
international legal authority to defend them against Baghdad.
They now receive only limited air support based on (in the case of the
Kurds) a legal rationale that has been contested since 1991. Local democratic
institutions should also receive a share of Iraqi oil revenues.
-- Indict Saddam and his associates. Indictments for genocide and other
crimes can encourage domestic opposition, assure those not indicted and,
perhaps most importantly, discourage international meddling to keep Saddam
in power. As former NATO Commander Gen. Wesley Clark noted, our partners'
resolve to defeat Milosevic stiffened measurably once he was indicted
during the war over Kosovo.
As a tactical matter, the administration will not want to make suggestions
like these. Other members of the Security Council (Germany is a new member
and looking for a way to influence international policies) may be willing
to float ideas so that the option can be shaped before the administration
must make its decision.
It may be too soon to say whether the president should take up any of
the options I have suggested. But he owes it to himself -- and our troops
-- to consider the benefits of all alternatives that can promote our safety.
The president might find that this approach would protect America and
our allies; bring about Saddam's downfall; win broad, strong international
support (political and financial) for democracy in the Gulf; and show
that the administration can pursue regime change without invasion, a lesson
useful in other contexts (such as North Korea) where it is reluctant to
Some will say that the time for such initiatives has passed. Time is short.
Every day, however, the administration wins more credit globally for its
clear determination to use force. It is time to see what that credit can
(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 1/14/03)