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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Phase II and Iraq?

As military operations in Afghanistan wind down, it is well to keep in mind President George W. Bush's injunction that they are only the first battles of a long war. An important step has been taken toward the goals of breaking the nexus between governments and the terrorist groups they support or tolerate, discrediting Islamic fundamentalism so that moderates in the Islamic world can reclaim their religion from the fanatics, and placing the fight against terrorism in the context of the geopolitical threat of Saddam Hussein's Iraq to regional stability and to U.S. allies and interests in the region. But much more needs to be done.

Were we to flinch, the success in Afghanistan would be interpreted in time as taking on the weakest and most remote of the terrorist centers while we recoiled from unraveling terrorism in countries more central to the problem.

Three interrelated courses of action are available: (a) To rely primarily on diplomacy and coalition-building on the theory that the fate of the Taliban will teach the appropriate lessons. (b) To insist on a number of specific corrective steps in countries with known training camps or terrorist headquarters, such as Somalia or Yemen, or those engaged in dangerous programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, such as Iraq, and to take military action if these steps are rejected. (c) To focus on the overthrow of the regime in Iraq in order to change the regional dynamics by showing America's determination to defend regional stability, its interests and its friends. (This would also send a strong message to other rogue states.)

Sole reliance on diplomacy is the preferred course of some members of the coalition. But to rely solely on diplomacy would be to repeat the mistake with which the United States hamstrung itself in every war of the past half-century. Because it treated military operations and diplomacy as separate and sequential, the United States stopped military operations in Korea as soon as our adversaries moved to the conference table; it ended the bombing of North Vietnam as an entrance price to the Paris talks; and it stopped military operations in the Gulf after the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

Anti-terrorism policy is empty if it is not backed by the threat of force. Intellectual opponents of military action as well as its likely targets will procrastinate or agree to token or symbolic remedies only. Ironically, governments on whose territory terrorists are tolerated will find it especially difficult to cooperate unless the consequences of failing to do so are made more risky than their tacit bargain with the terrorists.

Somalia and Yemen are often mentioned as possible targets for a Phase II campaign. That decision should depend on the ability to identify targets against which local governments are able to act and on the suitability of U.S. forces to accomplish this task if the local governments can't or won't.

All this raises the unavoidable challenge Iraq poses. The issue is not whether Iraq was involved in the terrorist attack on the United States. Iraq's policy is implacably hostile to the United States and to certain neighboring countries. It possesses growing stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, which Saddam Hussein has used in the war against Iran and on his own population. It is working to develop a nuclear capability. Hussein breached his commitment to the United Nations by evicting the international inspectors he had accepted on his territory as part of the armistice agreement ending the Gulf War. There is no possibility of negotiation between Washington and Baghdad.

But if the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is to be seriously considered, three prerequisites must be met: (a) development of a military plan that is quick and decisive, (b) some prior agreement on what kind of structure is to replace Hussein and (c) the support or acquiescence of key countries needed for implementation of the military plan.

A military operation against Saddam Hussein cannot be long and drawn out. If it is, the battle may turn into a struggle of Islam against the West.

Furthermore, we cannot stake U.S. national security entirely, or even largely, on local opposition forces that do not yet exist and whose combat capabilities are untested. Perhaps Iraqi forces would collapse at the first confrontation, as some argue. But the likelihood of this happening is greatly increased if it is clear American military power stands in overwhelming force immediately behind the local forces.

Creating an appropriate coalition for such an effort and finding bases for the necessary American deployment will be difficult. Phase II is likely to separate those members of the coalition that joined so as to have veto over U.S. actions from those that are willing to pursue an implacable strategy. Nevertheless, the skillful diplomacy that shaped the first phase of the anti-terrorism campaign would have much to build on. Britain will not easily abandon the pivotal role, based on its special relationship with the United States, that it has earned for itself in the evolution of the crisis. Nor will Germany move into active opposition to the United States -- especially in an election year. The same is true of Russia, China and Japan. A determined U.S. policy thus has more latitude than is generally assumed.

But it will be far more difficult than Phase I. Local resistance -- especially in Iraq -- will be more determined and ruthless. Domestic opposition will mount in many countries. American public opinion will be crucial in sustaining such a course. It will need to be shaped by the same kind of decisive and subtle leadership by which Bush unified the country for the first phase of the crisis.

Henry A. Kissinger, a former secretary of state, is president of Kissinger Associates. He contributed this comment to The Washington Post.