The Rollback Fantasy

AN IRAQI BAY OF PIGS

Four decades ago a Third World dictator threatened American interests in a crucial region. Unwilling to pay the costs of an invasion or settle for containment, U.S. policymakers convinced themselves that a cheap and easy third option existed: support for some of the dictator's domestic opponents, whose efforts would supposedly spark a popular uprising and topple the regime. The resulting invasion attempt by Cuban exiles at the Bay of Pigs turned into one of the worst fiascoes in the history of American foreign policy.

Incredibly, a similar concept -- using the Iraqi opposition to overthrow Saddam Hussein -- is one of the hottest foreign policy ideas in Washington today. From congressional leaders to a galaxy of former government officials, from The Weekly Standard, National Review, and Commentary to The New Republic and columnists at The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Nation, support for the Iraqi opposition has become the leading alternative to the Clinton administration's current policy. One recent letter urging the president to back Saddam's foes more strongly was signed by three former Republican national security advisers, three former Republican secretaries of defense, and seven former Republican subcabinet officials; another prominent supporter of the idea has been Clinton's first CIA director, R. James Woolsey. As a result, in October Congress hurriedly embraced an Iraq Liberation Act authorizing $97 million in military aid to democratic Iraqi resistance groups. The president's staff was unenthusiastic, but Clinton signed rather than pick a fight. And after yet another showdown with Iraq over U.N. weapons inspections last November, the president himself jumped on the bandwagon by touting the administration's "engagement with the forces of change in Iraq" and its intention to work for "a government in Baghdad -- a new government -- that is committed to represent and respect its people, not repress them."

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