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Cohen, Senators, Salute Combat-ready Forces

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD THE USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 1998 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told U.S. forces assembled in the Persian Gulf their mission is vital, the danger is real, Saddam Hussein must be stopped.

Cohen, accompanied by Senate Armed Services Committee members Virginia Sen. John Warner and Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, stopped here Feb. 11 at the end of a four-day, six-nation visit to the gulf. Pilots and aircrew, sailors and Marines gathered more than a thousand strong in a hangar bay to hear Cohen and the senators.

"You are the ones who keep the United States the superpower that it is," Cohen said. "You send a signal to our adversaries that they should take great care in confronting the United States. Without this kind of strength, courage and confidence, diplomacy does not have a chance to succeed."

With the threat of war growing ever stronger, Cohen emphasized the United States still seeks a peaceful resolution to the crisis. "We are working to achieve a peaceful resolution," he said. "We depend upon your skill, your professionalism, your patriotism and -- day in and day out -- your courage, to make sure our diplomats have a chance to negotiate that settlement."

If diplomacy fails and the Iraqi dictator refuses to comply with U.N. resolutions, substantial military action may become necessary, Cohen said. "We do not want to resort to war unless it becomes absolutely essential," he said.

"Saddam Hussein continues to pose a threat to the security and stability of this region," the secretary said. "He has lied time and time again. He has cheated over and over again. He has developed chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. He has refused to allow the U.N. Special Commission inspectors to carry out their mission.

There will be no need to resort to any kind of military action if Hussein allows U.N. officials to conduct their inspections without restriction, Cohen said.

Based upon his travels to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain, Cohen said, he's confident the gulf states will support efforts to enforce Iraqi compliance. "We are satisfied they will be solidly behind the United States and our other allies if it comes to carrying out a military operation," he said.

To the men and women who soon may be called upon to fly attack missions, sail dangerous seas and cross hazardous terrain, Cohen offered his respect and gratitude.

"We all know how dangerous a mission you are required to carry out day in and day out, not just in times of crisis, but also in preparing for times of crisis. We are deeply, deeply grateful for the sacrifice you make," he said.

Echoing Cohen, Warner told the sailors and Marines: "Let there be no mistake, behind each diplomat's chair, there stands you." The future of the world depends on nations being able to control rogue leaders. God Bless and good luck."

Levin reassured the service members that people on the homefront support them. "You are the best America has," he said. "America knows why you're here. They support your being here. You are appreciated back home."

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