Iraq and the Unfinished Business of
the War on Terror
James Woolsey was director of the US Central Intelligence
Agency from 1993 to 1995. He spoke with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels.
NPQ | It has been a year since the Sept.
11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington by Al Qaeda. What have
been the successes in the war on terror? What remains to be done?
JAMES WOOLSEY | Despite the uncertainty that remains over Afghanistan's
future, the war against terror must be regarded as a major victory. Al
Qaeda has been deprived of its base of operations. A substantial number
of the key cadre have been arrested, even though we still don't know the
fate of Osama bin Laden himself.
But beyond this, the terrorist threat to the United States remains. There
are three movements at war with us: The Shiite Islamists, embodied in
the ruling clerics in Iran. The Sunni Islamists of Al Qaeda and others
bolstered substantially by funding from Saudi Arabia and the closely parallel
beliefs of the Wahabi sect as well as the Islamists coming from the more
modern approach of the Sayed Khatab group in Egypt. The third movement
is the Baathists, modeled after the fascists in Europe. I'm speaking here
particularly of the Iraqi Baathists, although Syria can also be included.
All three of these movements have had the US in their sights for some
time-the Shiites since 1979; the fascist Baathists since 1991 because,
for them, as Saddam often says, "the Gulf War never ended."
They continue to work on building weapons of mass destruction in violation
of their obligations under the cease-fire and UN resolutions, and their
intelligence services continue to work with a variety of terrorist groups.
The Sunni Islamists were more focused on the "near enemy" of
"infidel" Arab regimes until the mid-'90s when, under Al Qaeda's
leadership, they shifted their aim to "Crusaders and Jews."
All these movements regard themselves as being at war with America. Only
the Al Qaeda Sunni Islamists have been dealt a substantial blow by the
US and its allies. Fortunately for the West, the Shiite Islamists are
dealing themselves body blows with their endless internal struggles. They
are so mismanaging their economy and are so alienating young people and
women that their fate today looks a lot like the Kremlin leaders in 1988
or the French monarchy in 1788.
The storm is not here yet, but it is gathering. The important thing here
is not trying to get along with the faux reformers such as (Iran's) President
Khatami-clearly the ruling mullahs' poodle in pursuit of investment that
comes with better European relations-but supporting the real reformers
like the students, jailed newspaper editors and Ayatollah (Hossein Ali)
NPQ | The unfinished agenda, therefore, has to do with Saudi Arabia
and Iraq. Let's take Saudi Arabia first. What to do there?
WOOLSEY | The Sunni Islamists, the Wahabis and the Saudi money
that supports them are a huge problem. The Saudis struck a Faustian bargain
in the 1970s with the Wahabi clerics, who would get all the money they
could dream of to spread their particularly angry, hostile "anti-infidel"
brand of faith in exchange for turning a blind eye to the corruption and
decadent lifestyles of the Saudi royal family.
So, in addition to rooting out Al Qaeda and the Sunni Islamists, we need
to break the power of the Saudi oil weapon, the sword that they hold over
the economies of the West. It is the Saudi "swing capacity"
of 3 million barrels a day-what oil experts call the Saudis' "nuclear
weapon"-that pushes spot oil prices up or down on a daily basis.
We need, therefore, to move quickly and decisively toward more fuel efficiency
for our automobiles, such as through hybrid engines. We need to produce
more renewable fuels. We need to construct more pipelines with Russia
so it can take over a larger share of the world oil market. We need to
enlarge not only the US oil reserves but encourage our allies to build
their own so that if and when the Saudis threaten to use their oil weapon,
we are able to neutralize the effect on the spot market.
This will begin to undercut their ability to use their only real instrument
of state power. The Saudis were America's allies in the Cold War and even
our friends. But we are past that now.
NPQ | Now, what to do about Iraq?
WOOLSEY | It is important to make certain that as we move to change
the regime in Iraq, we do it decisively and in a way that everyone knows
we are determined to succeed. It is very important that our objective
be a decent regime oriented toward democracy, not just a coup that replaces
one Baathist dictator with another. If our NATO allies and Britain and
Turkey are with us-and we are able to use our bases in Qatar, Bahrain
and Kuwait-we will be able to succeed.
It would be useful to have a base of operations in Saudi Arabia, but not
essential. Indeed, the only way to gain the cooperation of the Saudis
is when they see we can go ahead without them and don't need them. Then
they won't want to be on the wrong side of history, which they are now.
NPQ | What military scenario can be assured of "success"?
WOOLSEY | We need to be able to use bases in Turkey. And we need
to be able to work with the British who, as the Afghanistan campaign has
shown, have the kind of force capabilities that mesh well with ours in
a way that our other allies do not. Most European countries are well equipped
to defend against an invasion from Byelorussia with infantry and artillery,
but have only partial capabilities to defend against chemical or bacteriological
warfare and not very well developed special forces.
But here is the key point: In the Gulf War, we used 5 percent smart weapons,
and we did not directly target command and control centers or the instrumentalities
of state power. In Afghanistan, we used 65 percent smart weapons. Assuming
we use that same proportion of smart weapons and attack command and control
facilities as well as key organs of the Iraqi state-such as the Republican
Guard and weapons sites-an air campaign would have a decisive result relatively
early on. Certainly, the kind of targeted pounding we can execute would
convince the mainline Iraqi army-now less than half the force of the Gulf
War-to surrender to whoever comes along. It wouldn't take five weeks,
the way it did in 1991, when the army gave up to anyone who came along,
including to Italian TV crews.
There is even a chance that, with the right kind of cooperation from the
Kurds and Turkemans in the northern sanctuaries, we could put together
an effective military force akin to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.
In the south, there is no sanctuary or comparable indigenous force. There
we would need 100,000-200,000 US troops.
In the event that the Republican Guard fights on in Baghdad, even as the
mainstream army surrenders, the battle could well turn bloody. That is
why we must have overwhelming troop strength going in.
NPQ | Is your concern that Iraq will use its weapons of mass destruction
against the US, or that those weapons will be covertly supplied to, or
otherwise fall into the hands of, terrorists who would use them?
WOOLSEY | Both. Allowing the Iraqi regime-with its ties to terrorism,
its historic ambitions and its demonstrated willingness to use chemical
weapons against Iran in war and its own Kurdish population-to continue
to develop its capacity with each passing month is a mistake we are certain
to tragically regret. It would be an historical mistake as great as failing
to confront Hitler after he took the Rhineland in 1934 to let Saddam continue,
day after day, to fulfill his goal of attaining long-range ballistic missile,
nuclear and further chemical capabilities.
When Europe finally drew the line against Hitler when he invaded Poland
four years later in 1939, he was too strong to stop. The West just can't
sit here and wait for Saddam to build up weapons of mass destruction.
NPQ | The new doctrine that has arisen out of this "asymmetric"
battle against terror is "forward deterrence," or preemption.
Since terrorists always have the advantage of secretly striking at any
time by coming to your soil, the only defense is to get them where they
are now before they develop the capability of a devastating strike. Do
you agree with the emergent doctrine of 21st-century warfare?
WOOLSEY | That is an important part of the new thinking. As far
as legality is concerned, though, we are still at war with Iraq. The UN
and the US Congress authorized it in 1991. Saddam doesn't believe the
war is over. He is still in violation of the cease-fire agreement.
The real risk here is that someone at the UN will come up with a half-baked
inspection scheme that Saddam will agree to and people will say, "Oh,
now the problem is solved." Nonsense. He cheated on the inspection
regime before. He lied about having no biological weapons capability until
his son-in-law defected and spilled the beans. Now Saddam is lying by
saying that he destroyed those weapons. And we know he has mobile laboratories.
How we can be confident in an inspection regime with mobile labs that
move out the back door when you knock at the front?
His capabilities are too widely dispersed and buried. Anyone who believes
an inspection regime will work is in denial. They are an ostrich with
their head in the sand.
We are fighting a new war in which assassination, deception and hiding
one's identity-the traditional attributes of desert warfare-dominate the
enemy's strategy. We can't try to fight this war as if one state were
attacking another, crossing the border with flags flying. We have to fight
the war that has been brought to us. The Shiite and Sunni Islamists have
fought against us with hijackings, unsuspected terror attacks and hidden
money transfers. The Baathist fascists under Saddam fought a more traditional
war by invading Kuwait.
This time around Saddam won't make the same mistake. He will try to assert
influence because he possesses weapons of mass destruction. He will try
to give those weapons to terrorist groups to hit us, as Saddam's son Quesay
It would be foolhardy for us to pretend that our enemies are going to
abide by the treaty rules associated with Westphalia and the emergence
of the nation-state. Today we face a much more difficult war than that
between two armed nation-states. So, we must fight back in kind. And preemption,
or "forward deterrence," certainly ought to be one of the new
tools in our arsenal.
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