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Jewish World Review Oct. 29, 2002 / 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

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Wolfowitz: Clinton let Saddam off lightly

By Pamela Hess (UPI) | NASHVILLE -- Former President Bill Clinton's decision to let Saddam Hussein "get off lightly," following Iraq's 1993 attempt on the life of former President George H. W. Bush may have emboldened the Iraqi leader, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Monday.

Saddam "was a little surprised he could be caught trying to murder a U.S. president and get off as lightly as he did," Wolfowitz told reporters at an electronic warfare conference here, adding that this may have emboldened the Iraqi leader.

Wolfowitz, widely viewed as among the most hawkish members of the U.S. administration, also reflected the apparent recent tilt in U.S. policy towards Iraq, ruling out any unilateral military action and saying that it wouldn't be necessary if Saddam disarmed.

Clinton launched 23 Tomahawk missiles against the headquarters Iraqi intelligence in June 1993, after receiving "compelling evidence" that the Iraqi dictator intended to kill the elder Bush while he visited Kuwait.

"We must confront this enormous appetite for revenge and consider also that Saddam Hussein might have concluded from that event that he could risk an extraordinarily dangerous act and get away with it," Wolfowitz told the Association of Old Crows' annual conference.

The attack on the senior Bush has been cited by U.S. officials as one of the reasons the United States was asking the United Nations for a new resolution approving the use of force against Iraq.

"After all, this was a guy that tried to kill my dad one time," President George W. Bush told a crowd in Houston, Texas, on Sept. 26.

Wolfowitz was also careful to stress the desire for the United States to act in concert with allies in any military action against Iraq. "We are not a go it alone country, and this is not a go it alone president," he said.

Indeed, he predicted a "very substantial" coalition of countries will be put together if it comes to war.

In common with other U.S. officials recently, Wolfowitz made it clear that Saddam could avoid military action against Iraq, by disarming his regime of weapons of mass destruction.

"His only hope of survival is a complete change of course," Wolfowitz said.

One of the keys to forcing Saddam to disarm, he added, is getting a new U.N. resolution -- no matter how long it takes.

"I think we should all understand to convince Saddam Hussein he has to change there has to be a clarity of purpose that has been lacking over the past decade.

"That is the key issue ... not arbitrary deadlines," Wolfowitz said, signaling the administration's intention to stick with the U.N. process. "We absolutely have to convince him this is a new and different ballgame."

Wolfowitz said further that Iraq's flouting of U.N. disarmament resolutions after 1993 may have been a result of the Clinton administration's response, and that the similarly weak response of the international community may have served to reinforce the attitude of the regime in Baghdad. The soft approach has not gone unnoticed across the world, Wolfowitz said.

"Countries that have been involved with terrorism have paid relatively small prices for doing so," he said.

The assertion is now part of a standard stump speech Wolfowitz has delivered at least twice, making the case for strong action to disarm Iraq of its presumed store of chemical, biological and possible nuclear weapons.

The large build-up of troops in the Middle East, with sizeable contingents of soldiers and Marines, accelerated carrier battle group deployments and the creation of a forward operations center in Qatar is intentional, Wolfowitz said.

"The only way to convince him is with a credible threat of force," he said. "It's the only policy that makes sense.

"It's certainly part of presenting him with the credible threat is (positioning) military forces that could achieve it."

Wolfowitz also played down comparisons with the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, saying that rebel forces in northern Iraq would play less of a role in a conflict with Saddam than U.S. allies had in Afghanistan.

In that country, the Northern Alliance was a standing band of fighters who provided nearly all of the ground troops in the opening days of the war.

"The situation is really different" in Iraq, Wolfowitz noted.

"In Afghanistan there was a long-running war between two forces ... and the government forces were nowhere near as strong as Iraq."

It would be "foolish" to suggest they could play an equal role, he said.

But the same Kurdish groups have occupied a zone of northern Iraq, protected by U.S. and British planes patrolling the no-fly zone overhead, in a manner that suggests they will be a viable economic and political stabilizing force in a post-Saddam Iraq, he said.

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Pamela Hess is UPI's Pentagon Correspondent. Comment by clicking here.

© 2002, UPI