Oct. 1, 2002

On the Road to War with Iraq

National Security Expert Details Technicalities of War

From the Airwaves is a transcript of “The GW Washington Forum,” the weekly public affairs radio program produced by GW, hosted by Richard Sheehe, and broadcast on WWRC-AM 1260 in Washington on Saturdays at 9 pm. This conversation with Gordon Adams, professor of the practice of international affairs, ESIA, comes from a recent program.

Richard Sheehe: Iraq has been a focus and there are some things about the actual military strategy, as well as the complicated controversy whether or not to get Congressional approval. What’s your take on what has happened?

Gordon Adams: This is an old fight the Congress and the executive branch, almost regardless of party, have had for about 200 years. The United States has actually had the Congress act under the Constitution to declare war only five times in the nation’s history and only two of those in the last 100 years — World War I and World War II. Toward the end of the war in Vietnam, they passed the War Powers Resolution in which the president is supposedly required to come to the Congress and say, “Give me support,” or it is required to pull troops out in 60 days.

RS: It’s interesting that you mentioned that even the Gulf War wasn’t a bonafied Congressional vote authorizing a war, because people are talking about that being the gold standard compared to what the current President Bush is feeling around for right now.

GA: What President George W. Bush’s father got was a kind of a courtesy resolution. He agreed to have the Congress vote on a resolution that would basically endorse the policy that he already set out on because that vote didn’t happen until January 1991 and troops had started to be deployed in August 1990. So it was not a vote under the War Powers Act. It was not a vote that the president requested under the War Powers Act. Congress doesn’t like to go to the War Powers Act. Only one member of Congress has ever tried to test it in court. They don’t want to go to court and have the War Powers Act declared unconstitutional as a violation or interference with the executive branch power of the president. The president doesn’t like to go to the War Powers Act because he doesn’t want to declare it constitutional and therefore be required every time he wants to deploy troops to go to the Congress for a vote.

RS: The White House says its being secretive because they don’t want to compromise the war against terror. How valid is that argument? Should they be sharing more, and if they do share more, is it valid to say they’re compromising the war on terror?

GA: I don’t know if they’re compromising the war on terror, but put in a broader context, this administration has a serious problem with this particular decision, not just with the Congress but with the UN and with the international community. No nation, at this point, has solidly spoken up and said ‘we think the objective of using military force to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime is the objective we share and prepare to support.’ And that is the administration’s goal. If you look at everything from Bush’s speech more than a year ago to the most recent speech by the vice president, the goal is get rid of the regime.

RS: How much of it is really a grudge match and how much of it do you think is a really legitimate concern about national security?

GA: It’s very hard to weigh the two, but I suspect there are elements of both in this decision. I was once asked, after I had served several years in the Clinton administration, what was the one thing about being in the executive branch in the White House that most surprised me, that I didn’t expect as a political science student and international affairs teacher. The answer was the impact of personalities and policy. Policy decisions at that level are made by people with histories, instincts, emotions, judgments, personalities — all of the things that we bring to the table. So you have to know that given Bush’s father, given the history of the relationship with Iraq, it’s not going to be absent from his mind. There’s no question that allowing Saddam Hussein’s helicopters to take off, after he’d been defeated, allowed Saddam Hussein to suppress a rebellion in the south of Iraq. If he’d not been able to suppress it, he might have been overthrown. Not chasing and destroying his revolutionary guard forces as they retreated toward Baghdad down a single highway was a military mistake. It wasn’t a policy mistake, but a military mistake that allowed Saddam Hussein to retain enough force to live to fight another day and we may see that fight. I am among those who were critical against that decision and there may be, and certainly are in this administration, people who want to reverse that policy decision and finish the job. So there’s a bit of that. There’s also some reality to the argument that the administration is making in policy terms. This guy’s bonafidely dangerous. He’s a regional threat, he has his hands on the technology to acquire weapons of mass destruction. It’s less clear that he supported the terrorist attacks. The evidence there is not good. There may be classified stuff I wouldn’t see, but I kind of doubt if there’s even smoke, let alone much fire, about his support for terrorism. He’s kept his powder pretty dry on that score. But with respect to weapons of mass destruction and long-term nuclear capability he may develop, those are all realities that have to be fed into the mix. It would be a tough decision, in my judgment, because it’s one of those rare moments when a popular democracy like the United States decides preemptively to attack and invade another country, to remove its leadership. That’s pretty un-presidential.

RS: Is there any doubt in your mind that the US is going to invade Iraq?

GA: Doubt is diminishing in my mind by the hour, if not by the day. Before this administration came into office, the people who are the principal policy advisers to George W. Bush already felt that taking out Saddam Hussein’s government should be an objective of American policy. So what they’ve been doing for the last year is building an internal executive branch agreement about that objective and using force to do it.

RS: So let’s assume it happens. What is the most intelligent way to go about it militarily?

GA: This is a $64 million question. There are all kinds of options. You have a little option, which is do something on the intelligence side that would take out Hussein internally and you don’t have to commit many forces. Maybe a little support, a little air bombing, but basically it’s organized internally. One of the things that we know is it’s harder than hell to get to Saddam Hussein. He’s extraordinarily well protected and has eliminated people who have sought that objective in the past. We also know that for all of the puffery that the Iraqi National Congress and the collection of groups that are in opposition to Saddam Hussein, they probably couldn’t win a dogfight in London where they’d rather go shopping. It is not a group of people who inspire confidence about the capacity of the opposition. They have less ability to inspire confidence than the Northern Alliance did in northern Afghanistan. This is not an organized military force. Inside the country, it’s riddled and broken up by Saddam Hussein’s secret police.


Send feedback to: bygeorge@gwu.edu