Facebook Twitter



In the aftermath of the U.S. missile attack on Saddam Hussein's intelligence headquarters in Iraq this past weekend - in response to a plot to assassinate former President George Bush - questions are being raised about whether the attack was appropriate and what, if anything, was accomplished.

Clearly, the impact of 23 Tomahawk cruise missiles, each with a half-ton warhead, must have caused considerable damage to the headquarters in downtown Baghdad, but it's doubtful the barrage crippled Iraq's far-flung intelligence capacity, despite President Clinton's claim.In fact, the compound, with its collection of sophisticated equipment, had been destroyed during the Gulf War and was subsequently rebuilt. No doubt the same thing will happen once more.

Experts note that the strength of any intelligence service is not in a particular building, it's in the people who operate it. Since the attack was purposely timed in the middle of the night to reduce casualties, most of Iraq's intelligence leaders probably escaped with their lives.

And while the assault was designed to "send a message" to Saddam, the effect is unlikely to cause Iraq to give up its support of terrorist operations. In a desire for revenge, the opposite might be true. If a crushing defeat in the Gulf War, including a destructive aerial bombardment, did not deflate Saddam, a single missile barrage is hardly the answer, either.

The example of Israel is food for thought. For decades, the Israeli policy has always been to answer terrorist attacks with massive military firepower against guerrilla bases and Palestinian refugee camps alike. Yet the tough retaliation policy has not stopped frequent guerrilla strikes against Israel.

Iraq can be expected to appeal for sympathy as an innocent victim of U.S. aggression and may receive some support in the Middle East where a current of Arab resentment against the West still runs deep.

The U.S. missile barrage also has caused painful questions to be asked even by America's friends in the region who were part of the Gulf War alliance. The first response of friend and foe alike has been to ask: "Why the swift attack against Iraq, yet the failure to help Muslims in Bosnia? The United States has a double standard when it comes to Muslims."

All the protests in the world that the two situations are not comparable are not going to convince many Arabs.

Yet having noted all these negatives, it is difficult to fault Clinton for lashing back at Iraq. This was not a knee-jerk reaction. Evidence was carefully gathered and it seems clear that there was indeed a plot against Bush's life when he visited Kuwait this past April. True, the would-be assassination was inept and never got off the ground and 14 plotters are now on trial for their lives in Kuwait.

The United States could have ignored the botched plot. But a would-be attempt on the life of an American ex-president, financed and directed by a foreign government, cannot be lightly dismissed, no matter how bungling the plotters.

Iraq is already under world sanctions, but is slowly rebuilding its civilian and military facilities despite the embargo. Aside from some show of force, a public "statement," so to speak, there were few other options to make American displeasure and anger shown.

One final comment. Some people have wondered if Clinton might have used the opportunity to bolster his personal popularity, taking a page out of Bush's experience in seeing his political standing soar after the Gulf War. Polls show the American people heavily approve the missile strike against Iraq.

But Clinton administration officials deny any such considerations entered into the decision and it would be churlish to think otherwise. Americans may not always agree with a commander-in-chief's decision. But when a president - any president - takes the awesome step to use military force, domestic politics must always be set aside.