THE Bush administration now seems not only willing to use offensive military force, but positively eager to do so. For what purpose? Recently, I chaired a hearing of the Joint Economic Committee on the subject of sanctions. The witnesses - arms negotiator Paul C. Warnke, military strategist Edward N. Luttwak, sanctions authority Gary Clyde Hufbauer, and oil policy expert G. Henry Schuler - united on these points:
Sanctions that have had 1/20th the impact on the GNP of targeted countries as the current embargo promises to inflict on Iraq historically have been effective. But they take time. These experts predict that the sanctions against Iraq will be a remarkable success within a year.
A standoff of a year or two will provide the US and its allies time to form an international consensus against continued selling of major weapons systems to underdeveloped countries. An ``arms denial'' program to stop the flow of sophisticated munitions to third-world despots can be achieved and is key to eliminating major regional conflicts in the developing world.
Current sanctions against Iraq, the strongest in modern history, are destined to succeed. Iraq is unique because it has only one cash crop: oil. It has only two distribution routes for its only resource - pipelines to Turkey and Saudi Arabia - and both are indefinitely turned off, cutting their exports by 97 percent.
Already, signs exist that Iraq's military cannot remain a viable fighting force. CIA Director William Webster has testified before Congress that as early as this spring, the embargo will substantially weaken Saddam's forces.
What little smuggling exists - mostly food and spare parts - will evaporate along with Saddam's cash flow, which Mr. Webster predicts will run out in less than a year. Experts believe Saddam's complete isolation from the world economy will shrink Iraq's economy by a devastating 50 percent over the next year, thereby fatally eroding his war machine. His status as the feared ``superpower'' in the Mideast will vanish.
The cornerstone of the administration's sales pitch for the war option is Iraq's potential nuclear threat. Yet Edward Luttwak testified that ``Iraq can no longer add to its weapon inventories or continue to develop its nonconventional capabilities. With each passing day, Iraqi inventories are slowly decaying, becoming obsolete, or both.''
An indefinite blockade by the US and the supporting coalition would require a modest military presence on our part and will continue inexorably to diminish Iraq's economic strength and aggressive military potential.
Open warfare, at great cost of lives, may roll Saddam back to his own borders and restore the Sabah monarchy. Sanctions may not. But the economic blockade surely would remove Iraq as a threat to world peace.
How important is it to the US to evict Iraq and restore the Sabah dynasty? Traditionally, Kuwait has been one of the most virulent and insidious leaders of US bashing. Kuwait's anti-US voting record at the United Nations is on a par with the cold-war Soviet record, ranging from 88 percent to 93 percent in opposition during the 1980s. Sabah family policies have also played havoc in the oil market, routinely ignoring OPEC agreements.
At this point, developed nations should use the extended lull that sanctions provide to accept responsibility for preventing the export of sophisticated weapons to the developing world.
Some of these nations are: the US (HAWK missiles, chemical weapons, advanced fighter aircraft), Germany (submarines and chemical weapons), Italy (chemical weapons), France (nuclear reactors and Exocet missiles), the USSR (Scud B missiles, advanced fighter aircraft, land-based early warning systems), and China (Silkworm missiles), among others.
We routinely supply massive, state-of-the-art weapons to small, unstable countries led by two-bit military despots, thereby threatening our collective security. A permanent, worldwide embargo on sales of conventional and nonconventional weapons to these nations is needed.
But first, the administration must stop considering Jan. 15 as a trigger date for military aggression. Instead, our target should be to rotate our troops down to 100,000 or fewer sea and air troops capable of enforcing a successful blockade.
We must seize the unique opportunity, presented by sanctions, to turn Saddam's act of ruthless aggression into a permanent peace solution for this war-torn corner of the world.
Iraq's warmaking potential must be decimated. In doing this, we could achieve the capability to create an ``arms denial'' coalition. All we need is the will to begin.