Regime change in Baghdad could bring global backlash

Dec 18, 2002 01:00 AM

Joe Wilson was the last US official to meet with Iraq's Saddam Hussein. As acting ambassador to Baghdad at the start of the Gulf War, Wilson negotiated Saddam's release of several hundred American hostages. "The Saddam Hussein that I know is really a bad guy. He is a thug of the first order," said Wilson, a career diplomat who retired in 1998.
Wilson is all for the ongoing inspections to disarm Iraq. But he won't back a war for regime change. And he denounces as "brazen opportunism" the use of 9-11 to justify war with Iraq.
We sounded him out on Saddam and the risks of war.

Question: Is Saddam Hussein a rational actor?

Answer: Yes, I think he is rational. He's not above miscalculations, but certain decisions he's made in the past that are called miscalculations are probably better viewed as high-risk gambles with a potential for real success.
The invasion of Kuwait, from his own perspective, was a rational decision based upon his understanding of the international community. He felt that he could forestall a US unilateral reaction and get the invasion of Kuwait thrown into the United Nations system.
His experience with the United Nations was that he would have had 35 to 40 years to occupy Kuwait without any real backlash. That's based upon resolutions that were passed against Iraq on chemical weapons use, which had no real effect, and upon his reading of the U.N. not punishing Israel for occupying Palestinian territory for many years.

Question: What sense does his desire for weapons of mass destruction make?

Answer: The decision to develop programs of weapons of mass destruction was not made with the United States in mind. It was made essentially because Iraq is a relatively small population with a nuclear-armed Israel to the west and an aggressive Persian presence to the east. Those are the reasons why they would develop weapons of mass destruction and why they would continue to want to keep them. So it is rational in that sense.

Question: Does Saddam present a real threat to the US or to the region?

Answer: I think it is legitimate to consider his active pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions poses a potential threat, but neither is the threat imminent nor -- with the exception of the potential nuclear threat -- is the current threat a threat to our vital national security.

Question: Your recommendation for action?

Answer: We should continue to pursue the political consensus behind the inspection regime, and that we invest the inspection regime with the zero tolerance that the president has spoken about.
In the event that Saddam Hussein begins to play his usual cheat-and-retreat games, we should be prepared to use military force in an incident-specific fashion in order to maintain the focus on disarmament and to mitigate against the really negative possibility of having to go in there and occupy and decapitate the regime. That should be truly our last option.

Question: So regime change at the moment is not necessary?

Answer: Regime change is still a desirable policy, but as a rationale for a full-blown war -- a ground invasion of Iraq, with the objective of conquering and decapitating, pacifying, occupying and imposing our value system on the Iraqis -- it's neither necessary at this stage nor is it desirable because of the risks going in, the risks occupying, the risks getting out and the very real potential that there will be a regional and, in fact, a global backlash.
It will be seen in the world as an American aggression. We will no longer be seen as a status-quo, benign power. We will be seen as an emerging hegemonic and aggressive power.

Question: Will Israel be any safer then?

Answer: I think the thesis that somehow Israel's security will be enhanced by this is flawed. The only way that Israel's security is going to be enhanced is by finding a lasting solution to the Palestinian problem that takes this war off people's television sets every night.

Question: What impact have sanctions had on Iraq?

Answer: The impact of sanctions has been terrible on the people of Iraq. Most of them have been obliged to sell virtually all their family heirlooms and belongings in order to eat. It has destroyed the middle class. It has destroyed the commercial class because there's been no business as a consequence of the sanctions.
And since we've put into place the oil-for-food program, it has made the population even more dependent upon the government because the government manages the food-distribution programs. So there's even a much closer symbiotic relationship between Saddam Hussein and his people. He feeds them all.

Question: How much weight would you put in reports of contact and cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda?

Answer: It would not be surprising to me that there were contacts between Iraqi intelligence and al-Qaeda. It would be prudent for an intelligence service to be looking at what other enemies of the United States might be contemplating. I highly doubt that they have operationalcontacts, and it just doesn't make any sense to suggest that they had operational contacts related to Sept. 11.

Question: What about last week's report in The Washington Post about al-Qaeda getting nerve gas from Iraq?

Answer: It was an uncorroborated piece of intelligence and was described as such. It was also described as having come from one of the more secret compartments of a secret administration.
So the fact that something like this would see the light of day I find very surprising, given the penchant of the administration to hold information closely. You always have to question something like that. It's just so out of the ordinary. You have to start looking at motives.

Source: Investor's Business Daily, Inc.
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