WASHINGTON -- The United States stands a much better chance of getting Iraqi troops out of Kuwait by going to war than by giving economic sanctions a year or more to work, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said yesterday.
Mr. Cheney told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is not likely to bow to long-term economic pressure, so "it is essential that we present him with the prospect of a serious Iraqi defeat."
"There is no indication that Saddam Hussein is open to a peaceful resolution of the problem he has created," he said.
"The evidence is not all on the side of the notion that we can wait indefinitely for sanctions to work."
Mr. Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were the first senior U.S. officials to testify about Persian Gulf policy since President Bush announced Nov. 8 that more than 150,000 combat reinforcements would join the high-stakes showdown with Iraq. By late next month, U.S. strength in the region is expected to exceed 400,000 military personnel.
Although both officials expressed hope for a peaceful settlement to the crisis, they were skeptical that sanctions would work. They tried repeatedly to dispel the idea -- raised at hearings last week by retired military chiefs, former defense officials and Senate Democrats -- that time is clearly on the side of the United States and other nations arrayed against Iraq.
Without an immediate threat of war, Mr. Hussein "could ignore the possibility of a military option. He could use the breathing space to work around the embargo, break up the alliance, enhance his military strength in Kuwait and move ahead on his nuclear weapons program," Mr. Cheney said.
"It's far better for us to deal with him now while the coalition is intact, while we have the United Nations behind us, while we have some 26 other nations assembled with military forces in the gulf, than it will be for us to deal with him five or 10 years from now," Mr. Cheney said.
On military strategy, General Powell faulted "a variety of . . . nice, tidy, alleged low-cost, incremental, may-work options that are floated around with great regularity all over this town" -- all of which, he said, "leaves the initiative in Mr. Hussein's hands."
"He makes the decision as to whether or not he will or will not withdraw," he said.
Instead, General Powell said he would implement a "success-oriented" strategy "that seizes the initiative -- one that is designed to win" with overwhelming land, sea and air forces aimed at driving the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. With this approach, "the question they [the Iraqis] have to consider is, do they move it or do they lose it?"