The United States cannot be sure economic sanctions will ever force Iraq out of Kuwait, and waiting for such an uncertain outcome would risk erosion of the international coalition behind military force, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said today.
Cheney, laying out to the Senate Armed Services Committee the Administration’s rationale for building up a military force for possible attack in the Persian Gulf, gave the most pessimistic view yet on the potential of sanctions to work.
“Given the nature of the regime, given Saddam Hussein’s brutality to his own people, his very tight control of that society, his ability to allocate resources for the military, their ability to produce their own food . . . he can ride them out,” Cheney told the committee.
Several of the panel’s Democrats, including Chairman Sam Nunn of Georgia, contended that the Administration seems to be dismissing sanctions too easily. “If we go to war, we never will know whether they would have worked,” Nunn said.
Sen. John H. Glenn (D-Ohio) voiced misgivings about a “Chicken Little approach to our policy. The sky is falling and the only option is war.”
Cheney spelled out in detail the U.S. position that American and international interests are in jeopardy in the gulf crisis, contending that Hussein might gain a stranglehold on oil, that he is destroying Kuwait and that his continued military buildup could mean further aggression.
“It is not so clear that time is altogether on our side,” Cheney said, a statement that appeared in conflict with earlier Administration pronouncements. As recently as Oct. 15, Cheney himself had said the opposite.
He said today that lengthy reliance on sanctions would cede to Hussein the ability to determine future events. “Such a policy would give Hussein a long breathing space,” Cheney contended.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin L. Powell, appearing with Cheney, said the U.S. gulf force “clearly has an offensive capability” to force Iraq’s occupying force out of Kuwait.
For Iraq, “the question they will have to consider is do they move it or do they lose it,” Powell said, adding: “If it is necessary to go to war, we go to war to win.”
Powell said that, while the large and growing U.S. force is difficult to supply, logistics is a manageable problem for the moment. The United States now has more than 240,000 troops in the region, and Bush has ordered an additional 200,000 who should be in place by January.
“We have the possibility of keeping the force at that level for some period of time,” he said. “There will come a point where it will become very difficult to keep that force in place for an extended period.” When pressed for a time period, he said one year is possible.