(National Security Advisor on U.S. goals for Iraq, 12/23/98) (2780)
Washington -- "Change will come to Iraq, at a time and in a manner
that we can influence but not predict," National Security Advisor
Sandy Berger said in an address at the National Press Club December 23
that stressed a strong U.S. resolve to continue the effort to contain
Saddam Hussein's ability to threaten his neighbors and produce weapons
of mass destruction.
"If he rebuilds (his weapons of mass destruction capabilities) we will
come," Berger said. "We have the obligation to do this; we have the
will to do it; and we have the forces in the region that are ready to
Despite the destruction that four days of U.S. airstrikes inflicted on
Saddam Hussein's military assets, there was little likelihood that the
Iraqi leader could be toppled through air power alone, Berger
Indeed, he said, "it was neither the purpose nor the effect of the
strike to dislodge Saddam from power. This is not a military objective
that plausibly can be achieved with air power."
"The only way for us to effect his departure now would be to commit
hundreds of thousands of American troops to fight on the ground inside
Iraq," he acknowledged. "I do not believe that the costs of such a
campaign would be sustainable at home or abroad. And the reward of
success would be an American military occupation of Iraq that could
Instead, the U.S. must be willing to maintain its vigilance and work
over the long-term for a change in the Iraqi leadership. "We know from
history that when tyrannies are prevented from expanding they often
retreat and decay. We know from experience that when people struggling
for freedom gain the moral and material support of the American
people, they usually prevail," Berger said, urging "patience and
In the meantime, the United States will do what it can "to strengthen
the Iraqi opposition," Berger said.
Nonetheless, "the responsibility to mount an effective movement that
appeals to people inside Iraq and inspires them to struggle for change
lies with the opposition leaders themselves. But there's much we can
and will do," Berger said. "We are willing to use whatever means are
appropriate to advance our interests in Iraq, as long as the means are
Following is the text of National Security Advisor Berger's December
23 remarks, as prepared for delivery:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
December 23, 1998
As Prepared for Delivery
REMARKS BY SAMUEL R. BERGER, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL
NATIONAL PRESS CLUB WASHINGTON, DC
DECEMBER 23, 1998
Thank you for having me today. Before I take your questions, I want to
talk about where we stand on Iraq -- about what we accomplished in the
military operation that concluded over the weekend and about our
strategy for moving forward.
For the last eight years, American policy toward Iraq has been based
on the direct threat Saddam poses to international security. That
threat is clear. Saddam's history of aggression leaves little doubt
that he would resume his drive for regional domination and his quest
for weapons of mass destruction if he had the chance.
Over these years, through the Bush and Clinton Administrations, we
have met that threat with a consistent policy of containment, based on
four pillars: economic sanctions; UN inspections; the credible threat
of force; and diplomacy to sustain an international consensus in
pursuit of this goal. In the face of periodic challenges since the
Gulf War ended, this strategy essentially has held Saddam in check. We
have prevented him from attacking his neighbors and slowly but surely
worked to reduce his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons
capability and the missiles needed to deliver it.
But over the past year in particular, Saddam has tried to cripple the
UN inspection system that has caused Iraq to destroy a significant
part of its prohibited arsenal. Clearly, he hoped to destroy UNSCOM
and to cajole the UN Security council into declaring him in compliance
with his disarmament obligations, leading to the lifting of sanctions.
For Saddam 1998 was the year to break out of the box he has been in --
the year to end containment.
But when Saddam refused to cooperate with UNSCOM in August, he did not
split the Security Council -- he united it. And when he backed down in
the face of imminent force in November, the United States and Great
Britain made clear that our restraint was conditional, that he had to
cooperate fully with UNSCOM or we would act without further diplomacy
or delay. Last week, we did exactly what we said we would do, and we
were right to do it. If Saddam could eviscerate UNSCOM without a firm
response, not only would there be no effective UNSCOM; there would be
no deterrence against future aggression because the threat of force
would no longer be credible. And there would be no prospect for
keeping his program of weapons of mass destruction in check.
The operation that ended on Saturday inflicted substantial damage on
Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs and on his military
capability to threaten his neighbors. That does not mean the threat is
gone. UNSCOM has not been able to account for all of the chemical and
biological weapons it believes Iraq once had, but neither has it been
able to locate them. We cannot disarm Saddam from the air as precisely
as we can from the ground. But disarmament from the ground -- that is,
an UNSCOM that is permitted to do its job -- has been thwarted by
Saddam. And there is much we can do from the air. We can damage the
systems Saddam needs to deliver his weapons of mass destruction, the
security forces he needs to direct and protect those weapons, and the
industrial facilities he needs to produce more. And that is exactly
what we did.
We damaged or destroyed much of the machinery that Iraq uses to
develop, test and produce the delivery systems for its WMD. Iraq's
missile program has been seriously set back. We also targeted the
military apparatus that oversees Saddam's WMD programs and provides
security for him and his leaders. We destroyed the headquarters of the
Special Republican Guard, and a number of other Republican Guard
headquarters, barracks and training facilities throughout Iraq. We
attacked airfields throughout Iraq, where we destroyed a number of
unmanned "drone" aircraft we believe were fitted to spray anthrax, and
almost a fifth of the helicopter force Iraq has used for internal
oppression. We disrupted Saddam's command and control apparatus. That
includes Iraq's military intelligence headquarters, which was
completely destroyed. It includes TV and radio transmitters used to
communicate with troops, broadcast propaganda, and jam transmissions.
It includes Ba'ath Party Headquarters and presidential palaces around
the country that are part of Saddam's command system.
It was neither the purpose nor the effect of the strike to dislodge
Saddam from power. That is not a military objective that plausibly can
be achieved with air power. It was not achieved after a month of air
strikes in Desert Storm. But today, after taking his country from one
crisis to another over weapons inspections this year, promising a
lifting of trade sanctions, Saddam has nothing to show for his
efforts. He is weaker, deterrence is stronger and the Middle East is
safer than before the operation. Saddam has learned that we have not
lost our resolve to block his aggressive aims. He has learned that
there is no path to sanctions relief that does not pass through
compliance with his obligations. And he has learned that what cannot
be inspected can in many cases be destroyed.
The question today, of course, is where do we go from here? Let me
start to answer that question by discussing some of the approaches we
At one end, some have suggested that we have invested too much for too
long in Saddam and that the time has come to downgrade the threat and
move on. This view is shared by some nations that are eager to end
sanctions by lowering the bar for compliance.
But we cannot evade the reality that Saddam's external aggression and
internal repression still pose a genuine threat to his neighbors and
the world. Year after year, in conflict after conflict, Saddam has
proven that he seeks weapons, including WMD, not for some abstract
concept of deterrence, but for the very real purpose of using them.
There is no doubt that if he could rebuild his arsenal, he would. And
make no mistake: we would find once again that dealing with an armed,
unrestrained Iraq is far more costly and dangerous than dealing with a
contained Iraq. And walking away in the face of Saddam's defiance
ultimately would destroy the credibility of the UN Security Council.
At the other extreme, most people are so fed up with Saddam's unending
deception and defiance that they say we should just get rid of him,
now, no matter what the cost. That may be emotionally satisfying, but
it is not a strategy. It is certainly not something we can do by air
power alone. Cruise missiles and smart bombs by themselves will not
destroy this regime, nor can they deliver the motivation, leadership
and spine that Saddam's forces will need to rise against him.
The only sure way for us to effect his departure now would be to
commit hundreds of thousands of American troops to fight on the ground
inside Iraq. I do not believe that the costs of such a campaign would
be sustainable at home or abroad. And the reward of success would be
an American military occupation of Iraq that could last years.
The strategy we can and will pursue is to contain Saddam in the short
and medium term, by force if necessary, and to work toward a new
government over the long term.
The goal of containment is to prevent Saddam from rebuilding his
deadly weapons and from threatening his neighbors. The question is how
do we do that in the wake of the recent crisis?
The best alternative is for Saddam to allow UNSCOM back to Iraq with
clear assurances that they will be able to complete their job. Why
would he do that? If the UN Security Council makes clear that
consideration of sanctions relief can only come with verified
compliance by Iraq of its disarmament obligations. Indeed, lifting
sanctions before there is verifiable compliance would be a sad day for
We should not reward Iraqi intransigence with new, watered down
monitoring mechanisms designed to meet Saddam's demands. We should not
be interested in helping Iraq create the illusion of compliance. Iraq
needs to change its approach to inspections, not the international
community. Iraq must demonstrate it will fully cooperate with the
inspectors by taking affirmative steps. This is not hard for Iraq to
do. Chairman Butler has proposed a roadmap to compliance that would
take between three and six months to complete. If Saddam had the will
to end this confrontation, he certainly has the way.
If there is not credible outside verification that Iraq has fulfilled
its obligations, we must be ready to use force again if we determine
Saddam is reconstituting his biological, chemical or nuclear weapons
program or the missiles to deliver his WMD.
Disarmament by force does not promise perfect results. But then,
neither did disarmament by inspections. Even at its most effective,
UNSCOM never had it in its power to uncover every act of deception in
every nook and cranny of Baghdad. And for much of the last year, the
Iraqis have only been allowing UNSCOM to look where Iraq knows there
was nothing to be found.
With or without UNSCOM, we have formidable intelligence capabilities.
We will continue to conduct air reconnaissance. We can act if Iraq
resumes production of missiles, or tries to test any missile system.
We can act if Iraq tries to resume large scale production of chemical
or biological weapons. We will watch Iraq's external procurement
activity and we will know what it is trying to build and buy. And of
course we can also act if Saddam prepares to move against his
neighbors or the Kurds in northern Iraq, or if he threatens our
With respect to Saddam's arsenal of deadly weapons, our strategy will
be simple: if he rebuilds it, we will come. We have the obligation to
do this; we have the will to do it; and we have forces in the region
that are ready to do it.
Moreover, the sanctions regime that has already cost Saddam $120
billion will stay in place without change until UNSCOM returns. We
will continue the oil for food program to ensure Iraq's oil revenues
are spent on people, not arms.
In all these ways, we will continue to contain Saddam. But we also
recognize that containment is a difficult policy to sustain in the
long run. It is, first of all, a costly policy in economic and
strategic terms. And even a contained Iraq is harmful to its region.
Saddam's continued misrule of Iraq is partly responsible for the
pervasive sense of insecurity that prevents the Middle East as a whole
from evolving in a positive way. It requires us to keep a costly
presence in the Persian Gulf. It helps foster the false perception of
a conflict between Muslims and the United States -- a perception
President Clinton has done much to erase, but which inevitably
persists and is exploited by those who wish us harm. It means the
continuation of oppressive policies against all the peoples of Iraq
that threaten that country's integrity. It condemns the Iraqi people
to a future of unending isolation in a murderous police state, a
future in which their basic needs are met but their hopes of a normal
life are constantly dashed.
That is why we are going to do all we can to strengthen the Iraqi
opposition so that it can seek change inside Iraq. We will do so in a
practical and effective way, step by step. If we are serious, we must
do this carefully, not noisily. We will not play recklessly with the
lives of those who may risk their lives to oppose Saddam. And we must
not imply commitments before we are clear about their risks and costs
and likely benefits.
The responsibility to mount an effective movement that appeals to
people inside Iraq and inspires them to struggle for change lies with
the opposition leaders themselves. But there is much we can and will
do. Already, we have reconciled the two Kurdish factions and worked
with them to improve the lives of the three million Iraqis who live
outside of Saddam's control in the North. We have set up Radio Free
Iraq to get uncensored news and information to the Iraqi people. We
are intensifying our contacts with the entire spectrum of Iraqi
opposition groups, working with the Congress to help them become a
more effective voice for the aspirations of the Iraqi people.
When the time is right and the opposition is ready, we will decide
what kind of additional support it will need to overcome Saddam's
apparatus of violence and terror. We will not overreach. But we are
willing to use whatever means are appropriate to advance our interests
in Iraq, as long as the means are effective.
We will also stand ready to help a new government in Iraq that
respects the rights of its people and meets its obligations to the
world. We would work to ease economic sanctions against such a new
Iraq as quickly as possible. We would work to relieve Iraq's massive
We will pursue this strategy with patience and resolve and with
confidence that our goals will be met. We know from history that when
tyrannies are prevented from expanding they often retreat and decay.
We know from experience that when people struggling for freedom gain
the moral and material support of the American people, they usually
prevail in the end. We know as well that change, when it does come,
often comes suddenly and at unexpected times.
Change will come to Iraq, at a time and in a manner that we can
influence but cannot predict. And when it does, we'll look back and
say "thank goodness we persevered." That is what we intend to do, with
the support and understanding of the American people.
Thank you very much.
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