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Victory in Iraq may be tough to gauge

President Bush has vowed to push until Saddam Hussein is ousted. Will anything less be considered defeat?

By SARA FRITZ, Times Washington Bureau Chief
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 17, 2003
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WASHINGTON -- In war, there are no referees, no scoreboards, no first downs. Victory is often in the eye of the beholder.

In 1991, U.S. troops won the Persian Gulf War by driving Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. But President George Bush's victory was later diminished when the world wondered why he had failed to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The current President Bush, eager to avoid similar second-guessing, says he will not stop his assault on Iraq until Hussein is out of power. Victory for this president will be what administration officials describe as a "regime change" in Baghdad.

But it may not be that simple.

Once again, many people are defining victory differently. And their varying definitions of victory could be as problematic for this president as it was for his father.

While Bush wants regime change in Iraq, intellectuals and defense strategists who support his administration have broader goals. For them, this is a moral struggle to bring democracy to a part of the world long controlled by monarchs and despots.

"This is an effort to achieve a vast democratic revolution in the Middle East," says Michael Ledeen, a history scholar and former Reagan administration foreign policy strategist who works at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank. "This is a war of freedom against tyranny."

Meanwhile, Democrats have much smaller ambitions for the war.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, says the sole objective should be to disarm Hussein, eliminating the chemical and biological weapons and nuclear materials he has acquired.

"I wish they could have the kind of leader that we want them to have," Boxer said. "But this whole thing of regime change in Iraq is not our business."

Afghanistan's difficulties demonstrate why defining victory is an important part of war preparations and why the objective must be realistic, according to Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.

Biden recalls that before its assault on Afghanistan, the Bush administration pledged to banish al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden, from the country, to dismantle the Taliban and to establish a strong central government in Kabul.

Today, not only has bin Laden never been captured, but there are an estimated 50,000 Taliban and al-Qaida followers still at large and the U.S.-backed Kabul government does not control the country.

"There is no stability in Afghanistan, as we defined it initially," Biden observed.

With regard to Iraq, U.N. Resolution 1441 demands only that Hussein disarm. But the resolution, which offers the rationale for starting a war there, also threatens "serious consequences" if Iraq fails to comply.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., says he fears that the definition of victory in Iraq will become blurred because some of the administration's objectives may be unachievable.

Even if Hussein is removed from power, Lugar says, conservative intellectuals such as Ledeen may be disappointed if a successor government isn't democratic. The Indiana senator noted that tyrants -- first a monarchy and then Hussein -- have governed Iraq since the end of World War I.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., concurs. "Victory will be when (we) find and destroy weapons of mass destruction," Nelson says, "but we will not really know for several years if we've been successful until we see if the political and economic structure has changed."

The administration has encouraged the idea that victory in Iraq would spark the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East.

Secretary of State Colin Powell says Bush's foreign policy around the world is guided by the question: "Who is on the right and the wrong side of democracy?"

During the Cold War, Powell said, the United States embraced tyrants who were also anticommunist, but that is no longer necessary. In fact, Hussein, in power in Iraq since 1979, was an ally of the United States until shortly before the Gulf War.

But Richard Perle, another AEI scholar and a chief architect of Reagan's Cold War foreign policy, cautioned against setting the goal too high.

"This president is not going to stop short of achieving the goal of ... defeat of this regime," Perle says. "But let's not demand too much."

Nevertheless, Perle sees the conquest of Iraq as just one benchmark in a much larger campaign against terrorism. He thinks the United States must pre-empt Iraq before it lashes out with weapons of mass destruction.

If the United States finds and destroys those weapons without toppling Hussein, many Democrats plan to demand an end to the fighting at that point. If Bush rebuffs their requests for peace, they suggest, public opinion in the United States could quickly turn against the war.

World opinion appears to support the Democrats. A global survey recently published by the Pew Center for People and the Press found that more respondents favored disarming Hussein than overthrowing him.

In Germany, for example, 75 percent of those polled believe that Iraq must be disarmed, but only 26 percent favor removing Hussein from power.

Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, suggests that the fighting could take longer than the Gulf War and that Americans will be needed there to keep the peace after the fighting has stopped.

"There is an overwhelming expectation that this will be a repeat of what happened in the early 1990s," Biden said. He added that too few Americans understand that "Johnny and Jane will not come home immediately," as they did after the Gulf War.

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