‘Scorched Earth’ Meant No Delay
Spurning pleas to give diplomacy or the air war more time to work, President Bush decided against delaying the ground offensive largely because an Iraqi “scorched earth” strategy was destroying Kuwait and its people, senior Administration officials said Sunday.
“Kuwait is going up in flames,” said Brent Scowcroft, the White House national security adviser.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein “is basically intent on destroying everything and killing everything that has not been destroyed and not been killed since he invaded Aug. 2,” added Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Gates.
In allowing the ground war to proceed early Sunday, Bush rebuffed an appeal from Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev for a day or two more to arrange full Iraqi acceptance of U.S. demands. The decision also came despite the deep reservations of some members of Congress.
Further delay was becoming intolerable, said Secretary of State James A. Baker III, with reports of Iraqi troops laying waste to occupied Kuwait and “rounding up and executing Kuwaiti citizens” in an apparent effort to eliminate witnesses to brutality.
Baker, interviewed on ABC’s “This Week with David Brinkley,” confirmed that allied forces had planned for several weeks to launch the ground war at 4 a.m. Sunday, Persian Gulf time.
Although the timetable already was in place, the recent reports of atrocities apparently convinced the Administration that it should spurn the last-minute diplomatic appeals and stick with the schedule. The ground offensive began almost to the minute according to the plan.
Hussein “is trying now, and started in the middle of last week, to complete the utter destruction of Kuwait,” Scowcroft said on the NBC program “Meet the Press.”
“He has now torched around half, or maybe more by now, of all the oil wells in Kuwait,” he said. “There are reports of brutal operations in Kuwait city, eliminating some of the evidence of his misdeeds. We’ll move just as rapidly as we can consistent with the security of our forces.”
In Moscow, a spokesman said Gorbachev has appealed for additional time to give diplomats a chance to iron out differences between a Soviet peace proposal calling for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait over a three-week period and Bush’s ultimatum for Iraq to pull out in seven days. Hussein already had accepted the Soviet plan, which also would have suspended U.N. sanctions against Iraq once the pullout was complete.
“The instinct to rely on a military solution prevailed . . . despite Iraq’s agreement to withdraw its forces from Kuwait,” said Vitaly I. Churkin, spokesman for the Soviet Foreign Ministry.
He said Iraq’s acceptance of the Soviet plan has “created basically a new situation clearing the way to transfer the Gulf conflict to the footing of a political settlement.”
But Scowcroft bristled at suggestions that there were only trivial differences between the Soviet and American proposals.
“The difference between 7 and 21 days, to us it is very important, because we want to get him out before he can do any other terrible damage,” Scowcroft said. “To him, what difference does it make?”
Scowcroft noted that Hussein had been on notice since August that he should withdraw his forces from Kuwait and had shown no inclination that he was willing to do so. Iraq’s interest in last-minute diplomacy seemed designed to create even more delays, he said.
“This operation has been going on for 6 1/2 months,” Scowcroft said. “The military operations have been going on for five weeks. Saddam Hussein has known since early August what he had to do to prevent what is happening now.”
Baker said that besides the disagreement over the timing of the withdrawal, the Administration also objected to nullifying 11 pending U.N. Security Council resolutions against Iraq. Among other things, the resolutions imposed economic sanctions, authorized war crimes trials and demanded financial reparations from Iraq.
Nevertheless, Baker, Scowcroft and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney all sought to smooth over the friction between Moscow and Washington.
Baker said the Soviet Union’s diplomatic moves probably were motivated by Moscow’s desire to play a more active role in the postwar Middle East. He noted that the United States has no objections to that.
“I think they can contribute (to regional peace) if the role that they play is positive,” Baker said. Since the Aug. 2 invasion, he said, the Soviets have supported U.S. efforts to get Iraq out of Kuwait.
Scowcroft said the Soviets “have their own objectives in this that may not be parallel to the United States.” But he characterized Gorbachev’s government as “a stalwart member of the coalition” opposing Iraq.
Cheney, interviewed on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” said the Soviet Union shut off the flow of arms to Iraq at the start of the crisis, even though Baghdad had been one of Moscow’s best customers for military equipment.
Once an open skeptic about Gorbachev, Cheney said the Soviet leader’s cooperation in the Gulf crisis was “a milestone in U.S.-Soviet relations,” despite the disagreement over the commencement of the ground war.
Gates, the deputy national security adviser, said the decision to proceed with the ground war was driven by reports of atrocities received in recent days from the Kuwaiti resistance, the exiled Kuwaiti government, Iraqi army deserters and civilians who have managed to escape from Kuwait.
He said there were “enough stories from enough sources” to be convincing.
“Some 200 young Kuwaitis, between the ages of 15 and 20, were executed and mutilated by the Iraqis,” Gates said on the CNN program “Newsmaker Sunday.”