TV'S NONSTOP MILITARIST barking in the latest Iraqi "crisis" proves once again the truth of the old adage: When the flag is unfurled, all reason is in the trumpet. The plain fact of the matter is that Bill Clinton has played right into the hands of dictator Saddam Hussein, who hoped for precisely this overreaction when he sought to ban Americans from the United Nations weapons-inspection teams.
Clinton's foolish insistence that the U.N. pull out all inspectors until Americans are once again allowed to participate shows that this is an argument not about Saddam's hidden weaponry, but about saving face for the United States. The current confrontation between the superpower that covets its role as the world's policeman and the bully from Baghdad is one the bully can turn to his advantage no matter what the outcome.
Pulling out the U.N. inspection teams has given Saddam time to create new hiding places for whatever chemical-and-biological-warfare capabilities he has managed to accumulate. If the United States does bomb Iraq, the despot--who cares nothing about the lives of ordinary Iraqis and everything about staying in power--will be able to turn the corpses of his citizens into grist for his propaganda mill, thus reinforcing his hold on his country and winning new sympathy from the region's Arab masses. If he decides to back down, he is no worse off than he was before, and indeed will have put back on the world community's agenda the issue of the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq after the Gulf War.
The sanctions have hit Iraqi civilians the hardest: According to evidence gathered by the International Rescue Center, about a million Iraqis, many of them women and children, have died since the Gulf War destroyed the country's water and sanitation systems. The blockade has caused widespread malnutrition, leaving ordinary Iraqis weakened and susceptible to infectious diseases, and without the medical means to fight them (since if forced to choose, Saddam will always use what money he has to sustain his military). And why extend Most Favored Nation status to the killer government of Beijing, on the theory that trade fosters democracy, and yet continue the economic stranglehold on Iraq? Sanctions will not remove Saddam any more than they have Fidel Castro.
Despite Secretary of State Madeline Albright's muscular cajolings, the gulf's corrupt Arab oiligarchies who were our allies against Saddam after his invasion of Kuwait are showing no enthusiasm for military action this time. For one thing, they know that bombing Saddam's secret CBW sites would send billowing clouds of anthrax and other deadly toxins wafting toward them on the forceful winds that characterize the region in winter.
For another, these petroleum sheikdoms--with Saudi Arabia in the lead--are deathly afraid of Islamist fundamentalism among their restive peoples. Their complicity with a renewed U.S. bombing campaign, with its "collateral damage" to innocents, could encourage revolt. Arabist passions have already been inflamed by the U.S.'s allowing the extremist government of Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu to torpedo the Palestine peace process with scarcely a comment and no cutoff in the billions of U.S. aid to Tel Aviv.
It should be remembered that the first plant Saddam used to make chemical weapons was built by the American multinational Bechtel with money supplied by the U.S. Agriculture Department. This was at a time when Iran, not Iraq, was considered by American geopoliticians as the U.S.'s main enemy in the region. Now that Iran's people have elected a president who is trying to put the country on the road to democracy, prudence would dictate a new opening to Iran. Ending its isolation would encourage the forces of modernity, whose battle against the Old Guard needs all the help they can muster; and it would reinforce Teheran as a countervailing force against Saddam.
Using U.S. aid to Israel to bring Netanyahu back to the peace table, combined with a revision of our policy toward Iran, would amount to a serious propaganda defeat for Saddam. Such moves would also undercut the pan-Arab appeal of the Islamic fundamentalists--whose massacres of civilians in Algeria, added to the depredations of the Taliban in Afghanistan, have made them frightening to the burgeoning Arab middle classes. This new course, one favored by allies like France and Russia, would make infinitely more sense than another bombing campaign, which will no more topple Saddam than the last one did.
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