Commentary Magazine


Operation Scorpion

To the Editor:

In his hard-nosed call for the overthrow of Saddam [“What to Do About Saddam Hussein,” June], Joshua Muravchik recounts with sparkling lucidity the history of a catastrophic failure of American foreign and military policy, a failure for which the U.S., Israel, and perhaps other Middle Eastern countries like Kuwait will one day pay dearly.

Mr. Muravchik shows that allied defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory by a misguided and timorous George Bush-Colin Powell strategy, which is best summed up in the words of Thomas Aquinas: “If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.”

I would like to amplify the historical record by recalling Operation Scorpion, a proposal made during the Gulf war by Henry Rowen, then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. Rowen is a former president of the RAND Corporation and a former chairman of the CIA National Intelligence Council. His plan, which he described in an article in the National Interest, had the enthusiastic backing of then-Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney and Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. But the opposition of General Colin Powell, erstwhile chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Norman Schwarzkopf, the field commander, proved decisive, and the plan was never adopted.

Rowen’s plan, which called for the occupation of Iraq’s western desert, was based on a valid assumption: the launchers for Saddam’s Scud missiles, which had only a limited range, had to be somewhere in this area. If the plan had been carried out, the danger to Israel of Iraqi missile attacks would have been effectively eliminated.

Operation Scorpion, doomed never to sting, might have provided another highly attractive gain: Saddam’s overthrow. The occupation of the western desert would have brought coalition troops within 60 miles of Baghdad. Since most of Saddam’s troops were either in Kuwait, wreaking havoc; in the north, facing Turkey; or in the east, facing Iran, opposition to an allied assault on Baghdad would have been minimal.

Though President Bush approved the plan, he did nothing to promote it. General Schwarzkopf, in his autobiography, called it “as bad as it possibly could be.” General Powell agreed. But the plan Powell developed, successful as it was, had two drawbacks. As Rowen puts it: “The Scuds flew and Saddam is still in power.”

Arnold Beichman
Hoover Institution
Stanford, California

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