Whether or not war is averted, the international community must deploy “some kind of peacekeeping force” in the Middle East to guarantee long-term stability and ensure that Iraq can never again mount a military threat, President Bush said Tuesday.
Even if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein relents and withdraws entirely from Kuwait, there can never be “simply . . . a return to the pre-invasion borders or the status quo there,” the President said.
Shortly after Bush spoke, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, set out on a trip to Saudi Arabia to consult with senior U.S. commanders and Saudi officials.
The President’s remarks in a press conference, and additional comments by Vice President Dan Quayle, reflect White House thinking on the role of U.S. forces and other military units in the Persian Gulf after the current crisis is resolved, either militarily or diplomatically.
At the heart of the concern is that if a diplomatic solution is found, or even after a limited war, Hussein could end up retaining his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, as well as the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in the future.
“We’re going to have to cope with the question . . . of increased nuclear capability today beyond what it was several years ago,” Bush said.
Quayle, in a speech to a conference of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said that “once Iraqi forces have left Kuwait . . . and once the legitimate Kuwaiti government has been restored, our job will still not be over.”
“Having tried to erase an entire nation from the face of the Earth, Saddam cannot simply walk away without penalty and (be left) in a position to repeat his aggression,” Quayle said.
A senior Administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he and others in the Administration have “begun to do some thinking, some specific work . . . in terms of what a long-term security arrangement would look like.” Another official said that those involved include Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Brent Scowcroft, the President’s national security adviser.
One possibility, the senior official said, is a deployment of forces sponsored by the United Nations and made up mostly of Arab forces. “That’s pretty much what our thinking is,” he said.
A White House official said some discussions have been held about the makeup of an international peacekeeping force with the partners in the coalition arrayed against Iraq, but “it’s more of a concept than a reality.”
Foreign troops deployed under the U.N. flag have long been scattered throughout the region.
The United Nations has 5,800 troops on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel and another peacekeeping force on the Sinai Peninsula. In addition, 2,100 troops sponsored by the United Nations serve as a buffer between Greeks and Turks on Cyprus.
Referring to sensitivity in the region to any suggestion that the massive U.S. military deployment would bring about a long-term presence of U.S. forces, Bush said any peacekeeping units would be international, “because I think there’s a problem if U.S. forces remain on the ground in the gulf for some time.”
But he said that naval units protecting the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf have “been there for a long time; we will continue to stay there.”
The President grew suddenly animated when he defended the makeup of the U.S. force in the gulf.
To the suggestion that a disproportionate number of those in the front lines are from minority groups, Bush replied: “This argument that there’s some kind of racism . . . in this deployment--I reject it. . . . It is simply not true.
“If you don’t believe me, believe Colin Powell; and he has pretty good credentials in this field, outstanding credentials,” Bush said, referring to the Army general who is the first black chief of staff. “So I want to gun it down just as hard as I possibly can.”
He said there is “a lot of truth” to the allegation that the draftees sent to Vietnam represented “kind of the lower rungs of society.”
“This is different,” Bush said, describing the current Army as one made up of “the finest kids, the best trained, the best motivated, the high achievers--not the low achievers.”
Bush acknowledged that “you’ll read about one or two that say, ‘Well, I didn’t sign up to do this; I signed up because I thought I could get a free education.’ He gets on the Phil Donahue Show, a big hero. That’s the tiny fraction of these kids that are over there.
“It isn’t some cop-out armed services that they are now getting caught up in--something that they were unaware of,” he added.
Times staff writers David Lauter and Don Shannon contributed to this report.