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Don't Reject a Cease-Fire

By Jimmy Carter

This article originally appeared in Time magazine, Feb. 25, 1991, U.S. Edition.

Saddam Hussein has always had two options: 1) to withdraw from Kuwait and avoid destruction of his forces or 2) not to surrender the invaded territory, let his country absorb allied attacks and fight a defensive ground war. Neither alternative has ever been particularly attractive to the U.S. and its allies, even before the war began. In the first case, Iraq's military power would have been preserved; in the second, allied casualties would be higher.

We now face the choice between a prolonged conflict or a partial survival of Saddam's power. Our overwhelming force will prevail. But what will we do after we have destroyed a good portion of Iraq's military, ravaged Iraq's industrial infrastructure, severed fresh-water-supply systems in major cities and driven Iraqi military forces out of Kuwait? Will we pursue the retreating Iraqis mile by mile, ultimately to impose unconditional surrender?

Whether we like it or not, the U.S. is being criticized for the sustained nationwide attacks on Iraq, which Soviet leaders and others claim to be exceeding the U.N. mandate for the ejection of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Also, highly publicized evidence of damage to nonmilitary areas is arousing concern. No matter how limited or inadvertent this damage may be, the vivid pictures of destroyed homes and children's bodies being removed from air-raid shelters are a propaganda victory for Saddam.

Islamic leaders, in Iran and even among our own allies, have been calling for a peace effort, which would have to include a cease-fire. During this period, an unequivocal commitment from Saddam and united pressure from the alliance, including the Soviet Union, would be necessary to assure Iraq's total withdrawal from Kuwait.

We should not reject the option of a cease-fire. To foreclose this possibility and demand complete surrender as an alternative to any peace negotiations, even after Saddam's expressed willingness to withdraw from Kuwait is confirmed, is to ensure a long and destructive war, a fragmentation of the alliance and the likelihood destabilized Middle East. Complete destruction of Iraq's army will leave the country defenseless against Iran and Syria. If we insist also that Saddam face trial as a war criminal, then he is not likely to yield except as an act of finality and hopelessness, regardless of the devastation suffered by his country.

It is true that a cease-fire could permit some repairs and possible adjustments of Iraqi forces. These benefits could be minimized by the terms of the allied announcement of a truce, which might preclude the rebuilding of bridges or the redeployment of armored units. Pinpoint attacks by our smart bombs could stop these actions even during the respite period.

After more than 73,000 sorties against Iraq and its military sites, with minimal losses by the U.S. and its allies, Saddam and his top officials must now be convinced that the allies can continue this one-sided devastation indefinitely. There is little doubt that Iraq's anticipation of victory over the allied forces has dissipated.

If the Iraqis make a legitimate offer to withdraw from Kuwait, a cease-fire and negotiations -- with our support but under Arab or other international auspices -- would let Iraqi leaders and private citizens put additional pressure on Saddam to comply with the more limited Security Council demands. The achievement of immediate American goals cannot be guaranteed by such a pause in the war. Even rejection of the peace effort by the Iraqis, however, will put the onus of the continuing conflict on their leaders, giving the allied forces a significant propaganda victory. It will also help clarify our ultimate objectives, to ourselves and to the world. Involving others in negotiations will make it easier for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region once the conflict is resolved.

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