Goals and Means: Envisioning U. S. Policy toward Iraq

What does the United States hope to achieve vis-à-vis Iraq?Allow me to lay out the options for the United States in a systematic fashion.

What does the United States hope to achieve vis-à-vis Iraq?

Allow me to lay out the options for the United States in a systematic fashion. Since I am not a military expert, let me forego commenting on the military options, and concentrate on the first two sets of options before the Bush Administration: its goals and the military and diplomatic alternatives for achieving those goals.

As for goals: in my opinion, the only choice before the United States is whether to try to fundamentally reshape Iraq or to pursue a minimum regime change coupled with WMD eradication. The first choice would require a massive effort to rebuild Iraq as a state that incorporates elements of pluralism, accommodates domestic political interests and ethnic reconciliation, and reconstructing the infrastructure of society. In the process, we would seek to eliminate every iota of WMD capabilities found in the country. The second option would require more than simply decapitating Saddam Hussein alone; to be acceptable, it would have to eliminate approximately fifty to seventy-five of the top people in the existing regime, and constructing a new government (with some participation from opposition figures as well).

Both options would require a substantial military occupation of Iraq, for the short term, to damp down threats of civil war or revenge killings. The second option, however, does not envision a need to support a long-term international trusteeship of Iraq (lasting at minimum between five to ten years). Instead, a shorter period (of between two to four years), designed to leave in place a government that has credibility and is friendly to the United States.

What are the military-diplomatic options? I see four, which I will list in order of "soft" to "hard." The first is what I term "extended multilateralism." Here, after watching many months of enhanced tougher inspections, the United States engages in a renewed effort to impose a much harsher form of containment on Iraq. The U. S. would bring to the Security Council enough evidence for the Council to impose a newer, much tougher sanctions regime against Iraq, but stops short of a full-scale invasion.

The second is "conditional multilateralism", where the United States keeps up the pressure to force inspections in order to produce a report by the end of January 2003 that allows us to extract the necessary evidence to demonstrate Iraq's material breaches of its obligations under UN resolutions. Armed with this evidence, the United States would go before the Security Council to gain their formal or tacit endorsement to allow Washington to assemble a "coalition of the willing" to carry through what we believe is already implicit in early resolutions. In essence, we would seek of the other permanent members assurances that they would not stand in our way. To achieve this, however, the Bush Administration must be willing to share sensitive intelligence with the leaders of the other permanent member states, if necessary, that makes this case perfectly clear.

The third is what I would term "minimum multilateralism." Here, the United States would seek no new resolution or approval from the UN Security Council but would directly approach the key countries we believe are necessary in order to ensure success in Iraq. We would need to convince them that a) we are committed and b) that there is sufficient evidence of Iraqi noncompliance. Here again, we would need to be prepared to make both a public case for support and a private case to specific leaders, again by sharing sensitive intelligence, if necessary.

The final scenario is a variant on the third, "unilateralism plus", where the United States concludes, after its own review of the documents provided by Iraq, that Saddam Hussein's regime is in material breach of the resolutions, and we announce our readiness to disarm Iraq by force. In this case, we would expect the other key countries to join us, but, unlike the third option, our launching military operations would not be contingent upon first gaining the approval of the other allies and partners we feel are needed for the success of this operation.

The Honorable Samuel W. Lewis has a long and distinguished career in American diplomacy, including heading the State Department's Policy Planning Staff during the first Clinton Administration. Ambassador Lewis currently serves as Senior Policy Advisor for the Israel Policy Forum and as a Board Member of the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University.