The Rising East


Bush the Younger
should find Weinberger’s
checklist helpful

When Caspar W. Weinberger was secretary of defense during the Reagan administration, he forged a set of six guidelines intended to govern the application of U.S. military force as an instrument of national policy. Among them: Military force should be applied only as a last resort, it should serve a vital national interest and it must have reasonable assurance of public support.

Gauged by those principles, which have been accepted by many American military leaders and strategic thinkers, President Bush's call to arms against Saddam Hussein's Iraq has not yet measured up, even though he moved the process forward this week during the commemoration of the terrorist assaults on the United States a year ago.

"Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger," the president told the United Nations on Thursday. "To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take."

In issuing the guidelines in 1984, Weinberger tried to overcome the legacy of the 25-year war in Vietnam that had divided the nation more than at any time since the Civil War, demoralized the armed forces and left the nation's political leaders beset with uncertainty about how to use the military forces.

Weinberger's admonitions might well be called the Powell Doctrine because Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, then an Army major general and military assistant to Weinberger, had a hand in drafting the principles. Powell, who had fought in Vietnam, asserted in his book, My American Journey: "You do not squander courage and lives without clear purpose, without the country's backing, and without full commitment."

Taking Weinberger's six points, here's an assessment of where the Bush policy on Iraq stands:

Last resort: Bush and his chief advisers have shifted in recent weeks from calling for an invasion of Iraq to trying diplomatic means to bring about change in Iraq. Bush has challenged the U.N. to enforce its own resolutions against Iraq.

U.S. interests: Bush has claimed that Saddam Hussein has acquired nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction and intends to use them to attack the United States, but he has not yet sufficiently made the case.

Public support: This seems to be the weakest link in the president's chain. There is dissent within his administration over how to proceed, notably between Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who advocates charging ahead. Prominent Republicans have disagreed with the administration in public. Powerful members of Congress have been skeptical or opposed. Key allies abroad have expressed disparate views. Polls show that American public support has dropped from more than 75 percent favoring military action against Iraq last year to just over 50 percent today.

Clearly defined objectives: The president has been clear in saying that Saddam Hussein is evil and must be forced from power. Beyond that, the administration has evidently not thought through what comes after Saddam, what sort of government would replace him and how that would be achieved.

Composition of forces: The variety of war plans that have been leaked from the Pentagon suggests that a strategy for taking out Saddam has not yet been fashioned and therefore what forces would be needed has not been decided. Evidently an argument rages among the military leaders.

Intention of winning: There is little doubt that Bush would commit sufficient forces to win. President Bush the Elder sent 500,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines into battle against Saddam and whipped him in 1991. Surely President Bush the Younger would do the same.

If Bush is determined to wage war against Iraq, he and his administration still have work to do to get the nation ready, including persuading military commanders that his plan passes Weinberger's six-point checklist. A caution from Colin Powell is pertinent:

In his 1995 book, he noted that when the turn came for soldiers of his generation to call the shots, "we would not quietly acquiesce in half-hearted warfare for half-baked reasons that the American people could not understand or support."

Richard Halloran is a former correspondent
for The New York Times in Asia and a former editorial
director of the Star-Bulletin. His column appears Sundays.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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