Senate Hearing, "Iraq: Are Sanctions Collapsing?"

Iraq News24 May 1998

By Laurie Mylroie

The central focus of Iraq News is the tension between the considerable, proscribed WMD capabilities that Iraq is holding on to and its increasing stridency that it has complied with UNSCR 687 and it is time to lift sanctions. If you wish to receive Iraq News by email, a service which includes full-text of news reports not archived here, send your request to Laurie Mylroie .

SUN, MAY 24, 1998

NB: The Navy announced today that the USS Independence had left the Gulf 
and was now operating in the Arabian Sea.  Sec. Cohen also said the U.S. 
planned in the coming weeks to order home F-117 stealth fighters and 
other jets such as B-52 heavy bombers sent to the Gulf last November, 
according to Reuters. 

  On Thurs, May 21, the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee and its
Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a joint hearing, "Iraq: Are
Sanctions Collapsing?"  The panelists were Under Secretary of State,
Thomas Pickering; former Asst Sec Def, Richard Perle; former chief
nuclear inspector in Iraq, David Kay; and Kenneth Pollack, Persian Gulf
Analyst, Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
   Sen. Frank Murkowksi [R AK], Energy Committee Chair, began the
hearing by asking, "Are sanctions working?  Speaking about the recent
decision to vastly expand UNSCR 986, he asked, "Have we so weakened UN
sanctions that Saddam can keep his weapons of mass destruction and
threaten world oil supplies?"
   Sen. Sam Brownback [R KS], Chair of the Foreign Relations
Subcommittee on the Middle East, advised, "A number of us in the Senate
are worried that we are going down a course which doesn't address the
problem, Saddam Hussein" and called for a "frank dialogue" about where
the US intends to take its strategy toward Iraq.
  Sen. Ben Knighthorse Campbell [R CO] remarked that it was naïve to
believe Saddam would use the additional revenues he will receive under
UNSCR 986 for his people, while he complained about how the last Iraq
crisis had ended and the phony palace inspections that followed.
  Sen. Conrad Burns [R MT] asserted "Saddam will starve his own people
to serve his own purposes."
  Sen. Chuck Hagel [R NE] said that enforcing sanctions is not an act of
foreign policy.  Rather, it is a tool of policy.  And he asked, "What is
our policy?"

  Maintaining sanctions.  As Pickering explained, "Our fundamental goal
is to counter the threat that the Iraqi regime poses to US national
interests and to the peace and security of the Gulf.  This goal remains
unchanged from the time of Desert Storm.  Its importance was manifest in
the diplomatic and military resources the US brought to bear last
winter. . . . Based on Saddam's record, we have no reason to think he
will comply with the obligations the Security Council has levied on
Iraq.  That means, as far as the US is concerned, that sanctions will be
a fact of life for the foreseeable future."
  Pickering defended the expansion of UNSCR 986, "The 'oil-for-food'
program keeps these sanctions in place, but makes them endurable for the
average Iraqi and acceptable to the larger international community."
The alternatives were "watching the Iraqi people starve" or "lifting
sanctions prematurely," while "We are now working with the [UN]
Secretariat and other members of the Security Council to ensure the
effective implementation of the expanded 'oil for food' program. . .
Obviously, the program is not perfect.  We recognize that there have
been—and will continue to be—glitches. . . We also must face the fact
that some members of the Security Council are far more interested in
hastening the end of the sanctions than we are."
    Sen. Murkowksi responded by asking, "Doesn't this allow Saddam to
have the best of both worlds?  He can rebuild his oil industry and then
his war machine for whatever he has in mind."  Murkowksi also cited the
$450 mil/year Iraq earns from unsupervised oil shipments--to Jordan,
Turkey, and through the Gulf, noting that the money went straight to
Saddam and helped keep him in power.  He called for effective efforts to
stop the trade, while noting that UNSCR 687 required sanctions to remain
in place until Iraq had relinquished its proscribed weapons and
undertook not to rebuild them.  The UNSC had nonetheless expanded 986,
which was "beyond me."
  Sen. Brownback suggested that the administration had undertaken a
strategy which assumed that Saddam would remain in power, while
predicting that sanctions would loosen to the point where they became
virtually meaningless.
  Pickering explained that that was not so.  It was "our heart's desire"
to see Saddam removed, as the Sec State had explained in her speech
early last year, but there were "difficulties."
   Brownback replied, "You have strong support in Congress for a
strategy to oust Saddam over the long term," observing that "Your words
and actions don't match."
   Sen. Hagel asked, "How viable are sanctions over time?"  Sanctions
can work for a while in the short term, he said, but they are a short
term solution."
   Sen. Pete Dominci [R NM], recently returned from the Gulf, said the
Saudis had said it was time to reduce the US presence in the region.  He
was concerned about their "less than total commitment," explaining "I'm
not sure that this is going to work. . .  The whole scheme seems rather
porous and the longer the time passes, the less it is apt to work."  He
also said he had met US servicemen in Saudi Arabia who had returned
there 11 times, complaining Saddam "plays us like a yo-yo."
   Sen. Murkowksi concluded his comments to Pickering, saying that he
didn't feel the administration was working in a clear way to end
Saddam's regime, charging rather that US policy was "prolonging the
regime of this despot," asking "how is the world going to free itself of
Saddam Hussein, and warning that US policy was simply sustaining his
rule, "until Saddam has built up his infrastructure to achieve his aims
whatever they may be."
   Sen. Brownback ended the session by citing press reports that the
administration was moving to a strategy of deterrence, explaining that
he had taken Pickering's statements to mean that that was not so.
Pickering assured him on that point.

   The position of the Republican Senators regarding Iraq was bolstered
by the testimony of the first two non-administration witnesses, Richard
Perle and David Kay.  Perle explained, "The sanctions regime is indeed
collapsing, along with American policy toward Iraq.  In fact, there is
little to distinguish the Iraq sanctions from American policy since
American policy is nothing more than the desperate embrace of sanctions
of diminishing effectiveness, punctuated by occasional whining, frequent
bluster, political retreat and military paralysis.  What the
Administration calls a policy of containment has become an embarrassment
as our friends and allies in the region and elsewhere ignore our
feckless imprecations and reposition themselves for Saddam's triumph
over the United States.  More than six years after his defeat in Desert
Storm, Saddam Hussein is outsmarting, outmaneuvering and outflanking
what may be the weakest foreign policy team in any American
administration in the second half of the century.  The coalition once
arrayed against Saddam is in disarray, marking a stunning reversal of
the position of leadership occupied by the United States just six years
    Perle concluded that "Saddam's eventual political victory will be
followed by a restoration of his military power."  And "only a policy
that is openly based on the need to eliminate the Saddam Hussein regime
has any hope of attracting sufficient support in the region to succeed."
And "without legislation and other pressure on the Administration there
will be no change in current policy, previous Congressional initiatives
will be sidelined or ignored and irreparable damage will be done to the
position of the United States in the region and the world."

   Kay warned that UNSCOM inspections were "sliding toward irrelevance
in coping with  . . . Saddam's efforts to protect and expand his
capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction."  He explained that
when UNSCOM began its work, it operated on the basis of four assumptions
that have all proven false: 1) Saddam would be overthrown; 2) Iraq's WMD
capabilities were not that extensive or significantly indigenous; 3) a
post-Saddam Iraq would declare all Iraq's WMD capabilities; and 4)
UNSCOM would be able to disarm Iraq and leave a country without a WMD
  Not only did Saddam survive, but Iraq's WMD capabilities were of
gigantic scope and proved to be indigenous, Kay explained.  Iraq's WMD
effort spanned a decade; cost more than $20 billion; and involved more
than 40,000 people.   Iraq "succeeded in mastering all the technical and
most of the production steps necessary to acquire a devil's armory of
nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as the missiles
necessary to deliver them over vast distances.  .  .  .  The capability
to produce weapons of mass destruction cannot be eliminated by simply
destroying 'weapons' facilities.  The weapons secrets are now Iraqi
secrets well understood by a large stratum of Iraq's technical elite,
and the production capabilities necessary to turn these 'secrets' into
weapons are part and parcel of the domestic infrastructure of Iraq which
will survive even the most drastic of sanctions regimes.  . . . Iraq is
not Libya, but very much like post-Versailles Germany in terms of its
ability to maintain a weapons capability in the teeth of international
inspections.  Once sanctions are eased or ended, the capability can be
expected to become quickly a reality. . . .
   "One can only despair that those who urge containment of Saddam as an
appropriate policy have not examined preconditions of the Cold War case
to see if they exist in the Gulf.  The US maintained for 40 years more
than a million troops in Europe as part of its effort to contain the
Soviets and invested vast resources in the social, political and
economic reconstruction of Europe into a bastion of democratic values."
 Kay concluded "Political change in Iraq holds the only hope for
eliminating Iraq's capacity for producing weapons of mass destruction
and the equally dangerous arms race that is about to ignite across the
Gulf," advising support for the Iraqi opponents of Saddam.

    By contrast, Kenneth Pollack defended containment, even as he
acknowledged it could not last as is.  He advised that to maintain the
present international position on Iraq, what he termed "broad
containment," the US would have to make concessions on issues other than
Iraq. "This could mean making concessions to Russia on NATO expansion,
to China over trade issues, and to France over Iran, and so on."
   Or the US could make another set of concessions to achieve "narrow
containment," relaxing restrictions on Iraq, to draw new "firm 'red
lines' around those things which the entire international community
recognizes as dangerous.  Thus there would be fewer restrictions on
Iraqi behavior, but those that remain would be much clearer and more
   That, however, IS the administration's approach--to make concessions,
like expanding UNSCR 986, in order to maintain the international
consensus, even as recent experience has shown that each concession
fails to produce a stable consensus, only the demand for more
concessions.  Indeed, Sen. Murkoski responded, by advising that you talk
of a defense of containment, because it has worked over the past years,
but if you ask whether Saddam is better off today than he was one, two
or three years ago?
   In the Q&A that followed, Perle noted that Pickering's statement that
it was "our heart's desire" to remove Saddam was far from "robust
language."  Rather, it should be a US "objective."  One of the reasons
the US had lost the propaganda war over who was responsible for the
suffering of the Iraqi people under sanctions, as Perle
maintained and Pickering acknowledged, was that "We've cut off the
democratic opposition."  Perle advised that the US should recognize that
there is an Iraqi opposition whose claim to legitimacy is greater than
   Although Congress recently authorized money for the democratic
opposition, Perle predicted that the administration would find ways not
to spend it [see "Iraq News, May 1, for the legislation], even as Perle
explained that he did not see any new policy initiatives coming from the
administration.  "I think we're going to coast until we fall off the
cliff.  It's frustrating to see the administration mobilize so much
energy into thwarting initiatives, like from the Senate majority leader,
without having anything else."

   Indeed, it is frustrating.  It might seem inexplicable.  One would
think that given Saddam's character, as described by the Republican
senators, and the nature of his proscribed weapons programs, as
described by Kay, the US would do everything in its power to oust
Saddam.  But it does not.
    Already by 1994, the Clinton administration had decided that it was
not willing to overthrow Saddam by supporting a popular insurgency.  It
would be a coup or nothing, as the Peter Jennings ABC News special on
Iraq, which aired last June and was repeated this winter, explained.
Basically, the Clinton administration did not, and does not, want to
take action that entails significant foreign policy risks, even as it
does not recognize, or perhaps does not acknowlege, the risk in not
   As the evidence mounts that an Iraq policy based on sanctions alone
is not tenable and will lead to Saddam's return, politically and
militarily, the administration digs in its heels.  As Perle noted, it
seems to have rejected even the modest initiative of the Senate Majority
leader, despite assurances that the Senate would strongly support a US
policy to back the Iraqi opposition in a long-term effort to overthrow
Saddam.  As that is the road the administration does not want to go
down, it balks at taking even the first step.