A noted historian and scholar on CBW issues, Professor Moon provides an overview of US and Coalition policy, lessons learned and continuing cautions concerning the Gulf War and Iraq:

The Iraqi Dilemma

by John Ellis van Courtland Moon

In 1918, after suffering massive defeats on the Western front, Germany requested an Armistice from the Allied powers. Despite the objections of Congressional leaders and General John Joseph Pershing and the skepticism of British and French leaders, President Woodrow Wilson accepted the bid, seeing it as an opportunity to end the fearful slaughter on the battlefield, although Allied troops were still short of the German frontier. Shortly thereafter, the German generals raised the cry that later became a key refrain in Adolf Hitler's rhetorical arsenal: "The Army was never defeated. It was stabbed in the back by treacherous politicians back home." The charge against the "November criminals", often identified as Jews, became an article of faith among right wing politicians, although it was in total contradiction to the facts. 

In World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill were determined to avoid this mistake. The coalition policy became "Unconditional Surrender". It was a policy well suited to the Allied coalition, giving assurance to the Russians that the British and Americans would not conclude a separate peace, while hopefully guarding the Western Allies from
an armistice on the Eastern Front. "Unconditional Surrender" allowed the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union to root out Nazism and to disarm Germany.

In the 1991 Gulf War, the objective of the anti-Iraqi coalition was more modest: drive Saddam Hussein's troops out of Kuwait.  When victory was achieved, the United Nations, in a series of resolutions, determined that Hussein should be stripped of his weapons of mass destruction. Once again, the nature of the coalition dictated the limits of the terms. George Bush realistically decided that any drive towards Baghdad would split the coalition and create problems with his Arab and other allies. One can legitimately cavil that the Republican Guard should have been surrounded and forced to surrender and that the Iraqis should have been denied the use of their armed helicopters, which they subsequently used to fight rebellions in the north and the south and to insure Saddam Hussein's survival. But the basic decision at the time was correct.

Today, of course, it is evident that the forbearance of the United States has led to continuous problems with the Iraqi regime. Hussein has taken advantage of the decision of the coalition not to press towards total victory. Going one step farther than the WW II German generals, he has repeatedly proclaimed that he won the Gulf War. In every subsequent confrontation with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), Hussein has proclaimed the same verdict to his people who are in no position to contradict him.

The November 1997-February 1998 crisis brought the conflict between UNSCOM and Hussein to a new decision point. It was momentarily resolved, as Secretary-General Annan noted, by a combination of the threat of force by the United States and the United Kingdom and diplomacy by the Secretary-General. This resolution has brought a welcome respite, during which the United States has an opportunity to consider carefully the problems of dealing with a rogue regime headed by a notorious killer with a documented record of building and using weapons of mass destruction. Predictably, this resolution has also brought frustration and a bewildering chorus of imprudent suggestions from different quarters as to how to deal with Saddam Hussein. Two basic camps have emerged: the hard line hawks who tout their line on the floors of Congress and in newspaper columns, denouncing the Annan-Hussein agreement as "appeasement", and, the doves who are protesting against the continued sanctions against Iraq, with their facile slogan that the United States is engaged in a "racist war". So far, the Clinton administration has wisely avoided embracing either extreme, relying instead on a policy of "Let's wait and see. Let's test the agreement."

Neither the hawks or the doves are thinking responsibly or clearly. The various schemes for destablizing Iraq are vitiated by wishful thinking. The only realistic military policy for getting rid of Hussein and his regime, and for fully disarming Iraq, is a land invasion, followed by a prolonged occupation of the country. Such a policy, however, requires domestic and international support that at present is not there. It is indeed notable that the hawks have shied away from recommending such a strategy while they clamor for an "end game". A bombing offensive would certainly punish Iraq and would probably lead to the erosion of her military capability. But it would give no assurance that the main problem, the destruction of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, would be achieved. As General Summers accurately put it: "A surgical strike is a contradiction in terms."  Moreover, with the best intentions in the world and the most accurate targeting possible, it could cause substantial civilian casualties, thereby eroding domestic and international support for American military operations.

The domestic opposition to American policy and the United Nations embargo is also generally characterized by an unrealistic approach to international politics, an approach which ignores the basic fact that sometimes the threat of force is the only way in which a nation can achieve adherence to an international agreement. However, if we exclude those who believe that the only way to persuade is to shout down those who disagree with them, we are still left with a number of genuine concerns that need to be addressed.

The primary objection to the use of force is the fear that it will lead to horrific civilian casualties. One new fact that policy makers must face is the impact of instant reporting through television. In World War II, Allied bombing of Germany and Japan caused massive civilian casualties. But the images of these victims did not appear on the nightly news to horrify viewers in their living rooms. What this new factor means is that legal justification for the waging of war is no longer sufficient (we have, after all, the justification that Hussein has broken armistice terms). The job of convincing a domestic or international public that the use of force is necessary is far more difficult than in previous conflicts. A public must be convinced that all other means have been exhausted before force is used. And we must remember that the task of justification will be continuous. It will not end if bombs are dropped. The Vietnam War points clearly to that conclusion.

But the problem of justification is also complicated by current imagery. To the doves, the pictures of the funerals in Baghdad are more compelling than the picture of "Madonna and Child: Saddam Hussein style" used by Secretary William Cohen to highlight the genuine danger posed by an unchecked Hussein. It is an unfortunate fact that one of the major lessons of history is
that people forget it quickly. The horrifying Iraqi attacks against the Kurds are now ten years old. The Iraqi funerals are current news. The chemical and biological weapons threat to the civilized world still seems hypothetical, especially to many Americans. It has not happened here - yet. Current images are always more powerful than projected threats. The doves, in their fervor, can also ignore the wider ramifications of the failure of the UNSCOM mission: the impact on the credibility of the United Nations and the existing arms control regime.

What lessons can the United States draw from the continuing Hussein problem?  First, it should avoid hubris. Winning the Cold War poses both a danger and an opportunity to our country. The United States is now the only superpower in the world. Some especially vocal American politicians have come to believe that this means that it can do what it wills in any situation that challenges its power or its interests. They resent the fact that other nations disagree with us or do not automatically follow our lead. Such an attitude is extremely dangerous. It breeds nothing but resentment and opposition by other nations to our policy. Patient persuasion will often win the field when loud demands are dismissed as arrogant boasting. Moreover, although American power is now unparalleled and although it will last into the foreseeable future, the balance of power shifts throughout history. No empire has lasted forever.

Second, although what works in resolving crises is a combination of sensitive diplomacy with the threat of force, military strength is most effective when it does not have to be used. Once used, it becomes a wasted asset. Of course, it is always an option in international affairs. It should be used when necessary and appropriate, after other means have been convincingly exhausted. It is useless to argue let diplomacy solve the problem if diplomacy cannot solve it.

During the current crisis, the basic strength of the American position vis a vis Hussein was too often ignored. Militarily, he is boxed in. Although he retains the capability to develop and possibly use weapons of mass destruction, it is extremely unlikely that he will do so. Such use would be suicidal, as well as giving the United States clear justification for full-scale war against Iraq. It is also unlikely that at this point he would unleash biological or chemical terrorism. Although he is a risk taker, he is also a shrewd survivor. Currently, the United States and other nations have more to fear from home bred terrorists and violent non-state actors than from a foreign power.

What we cannot afford to do is to lift the sanctions until UNSCOM can certify that Iraq has fully accounted for its weapons of mass destruction. Given the attention to the plight of the Iraqi people, it would be wise simultaneously to provide as much food and medicine supplies to them as possible, provided adequate controls are maintained over the distribution of those supplies. But even if or when UNSCOM gives Iraq a clean bill of health, it would be foolish to believe that the problem with Hussein will end there. The men and women who were engaged in these programs will still be there. The knowledge of how to build these weapons will still be there. Constant vigilance with a determination to take action if needed will be required into the indefinite future. We are in for the long haul and should avoid grasping for immediate solutions based on wishful thinking. Containment executed with patience is not as exciting as end games. But, provided we maintain our resolution, it is far more likely to succeed in the long run than temptingly quick solutions.

In Homer's Odyssey, the wily Odysseus is forced to steer his ship between the twin dangers posed by six headed monster Scylla, who lurks in a cave on top of a precipitous rock, threatening to devour those who attempt to pass by her, and the whirlpool Charybidis, which threatens to engulf the ships that stray too close to its dreaded suction. Although not without loss, Odysseus succeeds. An ancient hero may provide a model for us in facing our late 20th century dilemma.

98-2, issue no. 65


Editor's Note: Professor John Ellis van Courtland Moon, Professor Emeritus, Fitchburg State College, Massachusetts and Professor Erhard Geissler, Max Delbruck Centre for Molecular Medicine, Berlin, have now completed their forthcoming book "Biological Warfare from the Middle Ages to 1945." ASA will supply details in ASA 98-3.


For the Professional in Government and Industry with an interest in Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defense, Disarmament and Verification; Emergency and Disaster Medical Planning; Industrial Health and Safety; and Environmental Protection