Scowcroft, Brent

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Scowcroft, Brent

Excerpt from his editorial "Don't Attack Saddam"

Published in the Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2002

The United Nations (UN) agreement that officially ended the 1991 Persian Gulf War required Iraq to destroy all of its biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. In the decade after the war ended, however, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein refused to honor the terms of this peace agreement. He consistently failed to cooperate with the UN weapons inspectors sent to monitor Iraq's progress in destroying its weapons of mass destruction. In fact, Hussein kicked the inspectors out of Iraq in 1998.

From the time he took office in January 2001, President George W. Bush vowed to adopt a tougher policy toward Iraq than his predecessor, Bill Clinton. The terrorist attacks that struck the United States on September 11, 2001, only increased Bush's determination to eliminate Hussein as a potential threat to world security.

Immediately following the terrorist attacks, Bush launched a global war on terrorism that initially focused on known terrorist groups. In his January 2002 State of the Union address, he announced his intention to expand the fight against terrorism to include nations that harbored terrorists or provided weapons, training, or financial support for their activities. Iraq was one of the countries he accused of supporting terrorists. Bush claimed that Iraq posed a threat to world security because it could provide terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.

Over the next six months, officials in the Bush administration began talking about the importance of "regime change" in Iraq, or removing Saddam Hussein's government from power. In addition, the U.S. Department of Defense began leaking to the press possible strategies for a military invasion of Iraq. Many people expressed uneasiness about the Bush administration's apparent determination to invade Iraq. As it became increasingly clear that Bush was considering going to war to remove Hussein from power, some U.S. lawmakers and world leaders began speaking out against the idea.

One of the most attention-grabbing criticisms of Bush's policy came from retired U.S. Air Force General Brent Scowcroft. Scowcroft was one of the Republican Party's most respected experts on international affairs. He served as national security advisor to Bush's father, President George H. W. Bush, and was a close friend of the Bush family.

Scowcroft disagreed with the Bush administration's push for an invasion of Iraq. He felt that military action in Iraq would distract from the war on terrorism and potentially create other foreign policy problems. Scowcroft expressed his feelings on August 4, 2002, during an appearance on the CBS News program "Face the Nation." He warned that an invasion of Iraq "could turn the whole [Middle East] region into a cauldron [kettle full of boiling liquid], and thus destroy the war on terrorism." Scowcroft followed up with an editorial called "Don't Attack Saddam," which was published in the Wall Street Journal on August 15, 2002.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from "Don't Attack Saddam":

  • One of the Bush administration's main reasons for removing Saddam Hussein from power was to prevent the Iraqi leader from providing weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. In his editorial, Scowcroft argues that there is no evidence of a link between Hussein and the terrorists. He also questions the idea that Hussein would provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups. Finally, he claims that attacking Iraq would distract from the global war on terrorism and perhaps even make the situation worse. He believes that toppling Hussein could destabilize the Middle East, alienate the Arab world, and reduce international cooperation in the war on terrorism.
  • Scowcroft warns that attacking Hussein would go against international sentiment and lack United Nations support. He also says that an invasion of Iraq, followed by a long-term military occupation of the country, would be tremendously expensive. He urges the Bush administration to adopt a more cautious approach and push for tougher weapons inspections instead.

Excerpt from Brent Scowcroft's editorial "Don't Attack Saddam"

Our nation is presently engaged in a debate about whether to launch a war against Iraq. Leaks of various strategies for an attack on Iraq appear with regularity. The Bush administration vowsregime change, but states that no decision has been made whether, much less when, to launch an invasion.

Regime change

Regime change: Removing Saddam Hussein's government from power.


Menace: Threat or danger.

It is beyond dispute that Saddam Hussein is amenace. He terrorizes and brutalizes his own people. He has launched war on two of his neighbors. He devotes enormous effort to rebuilding his military forces and equipping them with weapons of mass destruction. We will all be better off when he is gone.

That said, we need to think through this issue very carefully. We need to analyze the relationship between Iraq and our other pressing priorities—notably thewar on terrorism —as well as the best strategy and tactics available were we to move to change the regime in Baghdad.

Saddam'sstrategic objective appears to be to dominate the Persian Gulf, to control oil from the region, or both. That clearly poses a real threat to U.S. interests. But there isscant evidence to tie Saddam to terrorist organizations, and even less to theSept. 11 attacks. Indeed Saddam's goals have little in common with the terrorists who threaten us, and there is littleincentive for him tomake common cause with them.

He is unlikely to risk his investment in weapons of mass destruction, much less his country, by handing such weapons to terrorists who would use them for their own purposes and leave Baghdad as the return address. Threatening to use these weapons forblackmail —much less their actual use—would open him and his entire regime to a devastating response from the U.S. While Saddam is thoroughly evil, he is above all a power-hungry survivor.

Saddam is a familiardictatorial aggressor, with traditional goals for his aggression. There is little evidence to indicate that the United States itself is an object of his aggression. Rather, Saddam's problem with the U.S. appears to be that we stand in the way of his ambitions. He seeks weapons of mass destruction not to arm terrorists, but todeter us fromintervening to block his aggressivedesigns.

Given Saddam's aggressive regional ambitions, as well as his ruthlessness and unpredictability, it may at some point be wise to remove him from power. Whether and when that point should come ought to depend on overall U.S. security priorities. Ourpreeminent security priority—underscored repeatedly by the president—is the war on terrorism. An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the globalcounterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.

War on terrorism

War on terrorism: A U.S.-led, global effort to identify and eliminate terrorists that pose a threat to world security.

Strategic objective

Strategic objective: Long-term goal.


Scant: Very little.

Sept. 11 attacks

Sept. 11 attacks: Coordinated attacks in which terrorists hijacked commercial airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001.


Incentive: Reason.

Make common cause

Make common cause: Work together in a joint effort.


Blackmail: Using threats to achieve a desired outcome.

Dictatorial aggressor

Dictatorial aggressor: A person who rules with absolute power and uses that power to threaten others.


Deter: Discourage or prevent.


Intervening: Becoming involved.


Designs: Plans.


Preeminent: Primary or most important.


Underscored: Emphasized.

Counterterrorist campaign

Counterterrorist campaign: A U.S.-led, global effort to identify and eliminate terrorists that pose a threat to world security.

The United States could certainly defeat the Iraqi military and destroy Saddam's regime. But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive—with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy—and could as well be bloody. In fact, Saddam would be likely to conclude he had nothing left to lose, leading him to unleash whatever weapons of mass destruction he possesses.... Finally, if we are to achieve our strategicobjectives in Iraq, a military campaign very likely would have to be followed by a large-scale, long-termmilitary occupation.

Military occupation

Military occupation: Control of an area by a foreign army.


Divert: Distract or turn aside.


Indefinite: Unknown.

Virtual consensus

Virtual consensus: Near total agreement.


Sentiment: Feeling or belief.

But the central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost, and risks, is certain todivert us for someindefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is avirtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as thatsentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operationscorrespondingly more difficult and expensive. The most serious cost, however, would be to the war on terrorism. Ignoring that clear sentiment would result in a seriousdegradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism. And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation, especially onintelligence.

Possibly the mostdire consequences would be the effect in the region. The shared view in the region is that Iraq is principally an obsession of the U.S. The obsession of the region, however, is theIsraeli-Palestinian conflict. If we were seen to be turning our backs on that bitter conflict—which the region, rightly or wrongly, perceives to be clearly within our power to resolve—in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us. We would be seen as ignoring a key interest of theMuslim world in order to satisfy what is seen to be a narrow American interest....

The results could welldestabilize Arab regimes in the region, ironically facilitating one of Saddam's strategic objectives. At a minimum, it would stifle any cooperation on terrorism, and could even swell the ranks of the terrorists. Conversely, the more progress we make in the war on terrorism, and the more we are seen to be committed to resolving the Israel-Palestinian issue, the greater will be the international support for going after Saddam.

If we are truly serious about the war on terrorism, it must remain our top priority. However, should Saddam Hussein be found to be clearlyimplicated in the events of Sept. 11, that could make him a key counterterrorist target, rather than a competing priority, and significantly shift world opinion toward support for regime change.

In any event, we should be pressing theUnited Nations Security Council to insist on an effective no-notice inspectionregime for Iraq—any time, anywhere, no permission required. On this point, senior administration officials haveopined that Saddam Hussein would never agree to such an inspection regime. But if he did, inspections would serve to keep him off balance and under close observation, even if all his weapons of mass destruction capabilities were not uncovered. And if he refused, his rejection could provide the persuasivecasus belli which many claim we do not now have. Compelling evidence that Saddam had acquired nuclear-weapons capability could have a similar effect.


Degradation: Reduction or scaling back.


Intelligence: Information gathered through spying activities.


Dire: Serious.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Israeli-Palestinian conflict: A longstanding political conflict between the Jewish state of Israel and the Arab people known as Palestinians. The creation of Israel in 1948 displaced thousands of Palestinians from their ancient homeland. Since then the Palestinians, with the support of surrounding Arab countries, have fought to reclaim lost territory and establish an independent Palestinian state.


Muslim: Followers of the religion of Islam.


Destabilize: Cause to fall apart and lose power.


Implicated: Involved in or connected with.

United Nations Security Council

United Nations Security Council: The division of the United Nations charged with maintaining international peace and security. It consists of five permanent member nations (the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, and China) and ten elected members that serve two-year terms.


Regime: Program.


Opined: Expressed an opinion.

Casus belli

Casus belli: A Latin phrase meaning "cause of war."

In sum, if we will act in full awareness of the intimate relationship of the key issues in the region, keeping counterterrorism as our foremost

Brent Scowcroft

Brent Scowcroft is one of the Republican Party's most respected foreign policy experts. A retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general, he served as national security advisor to Presidents Gerald R. Ford and George H. W. Bush.

Scowcroft was born into a Mormon family in Ogden, Utah, on March 19, 1925. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1947, and received a commission as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. He continued his education, earning a master's degree in international relations in 1953 and doctorate in the same field in 1967 from Columbia University.

Scowcroft initially trained to be a fighter pilot in the air force, but he had to quit flying after suffering serious injuries in a plane crash. He assumed a variety of roles during his twenty-nine-year military career, including that of teacher at West Point as well as at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 1968 he took a position with the U.S. Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia. Two years later he served as a military aide to President Richard Nixon during his historic trip to China. It marked the first time an American president had visited Communist China, and it was part of a successful effort to open diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Scowcroft then became Nixon's deputy national security advisor, working for Henry Kissinger. He was promoted to national security advisor by Ford in 1975. It was at this time that he retired from the air force with the rank of lieutenant general. When Democrat Jimmy Carter took office as president in 1977, Scowcroft joined the private sector and worked for Kissinger and Associates international consulting firm in New York. He resumed his position as national security advisor under the elder George Bush in 1989.

Since leaving public service in 1992, Scowcroft has served on a number of corporate boards. He also is the founder and president of The Scowcroft Group, an international business consulting firm. He is married and has one daughter.

priority, there is much potential for success across the entire range of our security interests, including Iraq. If we reject a comprehensive perspective, however, we put at risk our campaign against terrorism as well as stability and security in a vital region of the world.

What happened next...

Scowcroft's criticism proved embarrassing to the Bush administration. The article received a great deal of attention from the media and started an intense debate about the wisdom of attacking Iraq. Scowcroft seemed to express the views of many people who had reservations about U.S. leaders' swift movement toward war.

Following the appearance of Scowcroft's editorial, members of the Bush administration rushed to control the damage. President Bush, who was vacationing at his Texas ranch at the time, released a statement the following day. "I am aware that some very intelligent people are expressing their opinions about Saddam Hussein and Iraq," he said. "I listen very carefully to what they have to say."

Over the next several days, the Bush administration increased its efforts to sway public opinion toward its position. On August 26, for example, Vice President Dick Cheney presented the administration's case for war in a speech before the National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Cheney even quoted several phrases from Scowcroft's article in making his argument. "I am familiar with the arguments against taking action in the case of Saddam Hussein," he noted.

Some concede [admit] that Saddam is evil, power-hungry, and a menace—but that, until he crosses the threshold of actually possessing nuclear weapons, we should rule out any preemptive action. That logic seems to me to be deeply flawed. The argument comes down to this: yes, Saddam is as dangerous as we say he is, we just need to let him get stronger before we do anything about it.

Cheney argued that immediate action was necessary because Iraq posed a serious threat to world security. "Deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network, or a murderous dictator, or the two working together, constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined," he stated. "The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action." He also insisted that regime change would free the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator and lead to peace and stability in the Middle East.

The Bush administration continued to make its case for war over the next six months. But it failed to change international opinion or convince the United Nations to support an invasion of Iraq. Despite the lack of world support, the United States attacked Iraq in March 2003. The war succeeded in removing Hussein from power after only three weeks of fighting, and President Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq on May 1.

After the war ended, however, the situation in Iraq lent support to some of Scowcroft's arguments. The war was very expensive and strained relations between the United States and some of its longtime allies. U.S. troops struggled to maintain security in the face of Iraqi resistance, and a massive search failed to uncover any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. These developments prompted many critics to claim that the Bush administration should have waited to gather more reliable information before starting a war.

Did you know...

  • Brent Scowcroft was the national security advisor to President George H. W. Bush during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
  • Scowcroft also acted as a mentor to Condoleezza Rice, who was President George W. Bush's national security advisor during the 2003 Iraq War. But he and Rice had a difference of opinion about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. On the same day that Scowcroft published his editorial criticizing the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq, Rice defended the policy on BBC Radio. She called Hussein "an evil man who, left to his own devices, will wreak havoc again on his own population, his neighbors, and—if he gets weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them—all of us." She also insisted that "we certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing."

For More Information

"Brent Scowcroft." Available online at (accessed on March 5, 2004).

Purdum, Todd S., and the staff of the New York Times. A Time of Our Choosing: America's War in Iraq. New York: Times Books, 2003.

Scowcroft, Brent. "Don't Attack Saddam." Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2002. Available online at (accessed on March 5, 2004).

Sifry, Micah L., and Christopher Serf, eds. The Iraq War Reader. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.