Defense Secretary William Cohen says a military strike against Iraq would be "substantial in size and . . . impact" but would be unable either to remove Saddam Hussein from power or eliminate his arsenal of deadly weapons.
"I think we should not raise expectations unreasonably high. What we would hope to accomplish . . . is to curtail, as best we can, Saddam Hussein's capacity to regenerate his weapons of mass-destruction capability," Cohen told reporters invited to the Pentagon for a rare Saturday news conference.In London, where Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited the Clinton administration's most stalwart ally for any attack on Iraq, she agreed that any attack on Saddam's suspected arms sites will be significant.
Albright and the British foreign secretary, Robin Cook, expressed solid resolve in the standoff.
Cohen, speaking in separate sessions with broadcast and print reporters, emphasized that diplomacy has not run its course in efforts to persuade Iraq to allow U.N. weapons inspectors into suspect weapons sites.
But his comments on the limits of what a military strike could accomplish dovetailed with assessments top intelligence officials gave Congress on Wednesday. They said "enormous gaps" exist in what U.S. officials know about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons.
Cohen said he is reviewing options for bolstering the 24,400-strong American force in the Persian Gulf region but stressed no decisions have been made.
And he pointed out that the region contains enough American firepower that if President Clinton orders a military strike, it would be extensive.
"I think it's clear that a military operation would not necessarily be a one-time operation or action," the secretary said.
But he said: "Should military action be necessary, it would not be meager. It would be substantial in size and I think impact."
Pentagon officials familiar with the forces already amassed in the gulf point out that its 325 warplanes, two aircraft carrier battle groups and reinforcements prepositioned in the region would allow for a sustained bombing attack of several days' duration.
The British support for any attack contrasts sharply with the hesitancy and outright opposition of other major U.S. allies and nations.
At a joint news conference with Albright, Cook said the situation is "very grave" and the United States and Britain are "absolutely one in our resolve."
Both Albright and Cook excoriated Iraqi president Saddam as not just in defiance of U.N. weapons inspections but also as a tyrant who used chemical weapons in the past and tested biological weapons in his current development programs.
What confronts the world, Cook said, is "a straightforward matter of preventing a brutal dictator from producing weapons of mass destruction." Every week, he said, Iraqi factories turn out materiel for missile warheads.
In a Madrid meeting Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Albright disagreed with Russia's objections to using force against Iraq.
The United States is running out of patience, she said, and raised the prospect of attacking sites where experts from the United States and the United Nations believe anthrax and other biological weapons may be stored.