If Diplomacy Fails, Steely Resolve Required

This, as Margaret Thatcher once said with understandable impatience to George Bush, is no time to go wobbly. The occasion then was Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. The advice is just as appropriate to President Clinton as he confronts Saddam today.

Even at this late stage, diplomacy may avert for now an American air war against Iraq. But while diplomacy might buy time, it will not eliminate the basic problem: Saddam's decision to stockpile weapons and toxins and gases. His desire for methods of mass destruction makes him one of the most dangerous men in the world. Can we doubt that he wants ultimately to unleash them on enemies outside his borders, as he has upon enemies within his borders? If not, why would he surrender billions of dollars in oil revenues to defy the world and maintain these horrific weapons?

Diplomacy is admirable, but when not backed by resolve and the willingness to use force, it is ineffective. We learned that from the greatest war of our times, World War II.

A weak British leader, Neville Chamberlain, sought to placate Adolf Hitler with diplomacy. A strong British leader, Winston Churchill, had to save the world from Hitler with guns. Sadly, might is sometimes the nearest right.

Some of the wobbly advisers around President Clinton caution against air strikes on grounds they would be ineffective. In itself that is a questionable thesis.

Though German soldiers never set foot upon British soil, German air raids upon British cities were formidable. In the early days of the war they did not succeed in bringing Britain to its knees, largely because of the remarkable strength of the British people. But if the Germans had been able to bombard Britain earlier with the terrifying V1 and V2 rockets they developed in the latter stages of the war, it might have been a different story.

Similarly, the air raids the allies mounted on Germany had a significant effect on German morale, and perhaps hastened the end of the war. And we all know the impact of bombs, albeit atomic, dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

The conventional air weapons in use today are much more sophisticated than those used in World War II. They can cause immense damage and dislocation.

True, dropping smart bombs on and firing cruise missiles at selected targets in Iraq might not eliminate Saddam's capacity to regroup and restart his drive to acquire weapons of mass destruction. But such strikes should be only the first step in a broader campaign, which polls suggest would have the support of the American people, to deal with the very crux of the problem: Saddam himself.

One instrument the United States could employ would be successive and continuing strikes to weaken Saddam's regime. No humane person accepts lightly the possibility of more civilian casualties. But would not the exit of Saddam be a blessing to millions of Iraqis?

As fascism could not be eliminated without eliminating Adolf Hitler, so the elimination of Saddam's evil policies - condemned unanimously throughout the world even by those who shrink from acting against him - may require the elimination of Saddam.

There are many possibilities for achieving this in addition to bombing that undermines morale. There is the encouragement of internal military and political factions opposed to him. The US has been able, by stimulating coups and insurrections, to depose a string of unattractive tyrants around the world, sometimes seeing them off to secure asylum. There is also the encouragement of neighboring countries - Iran comes instantly to mind - that, for different reasons, detest Saddam as much as most Americans.

When diplomacy fails, an intelligent foreign policy can devise a variety of pressures to bring upon an international pariah such as Saddam.

It takes resolve. Not wobbliness.

* John Hughes is a former editor of the Monitor.

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