November 20, 1997
(This is the second part of a three-part article. Readers can read the first part, The "Nightmare Scenario")
If there is something to be learned from this fiasco it is that if objectives need a clear definition they should not be inherently flawed and contradictory, demonizing an individual is counterproductive, economic sanctions do not work (but for one exception), name-calling of friends and allies does not help and the United States cannot properly function as the indisputable leader of the international community and at the same time be driven and limited only by domestic national security interests.
At the end of the Gulf War the international community indeed clearly defined four objectives through a series of UN resolutions. They were: The elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, the elimination of the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction, the payment of reparations to Kuwait and the liberation of all Kuwaiti prisoners. However, almost seven years later, not one of these four objectives has been achieved. Not only have they not been carried out but we are now learning that Iraq may have developed a new arsenal of weapons of mass destruction allowing their leaders to launch germ and biological, as well as possibly nuclear attacks on their enemies in the near future if we do not keep the country and its regime in check. The estimated timing of this potentiality varies greatly according to the experts; from a few months to a few years. The enemies are defined by Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, as "Saudi Arabia, Israel, anyone, Iran...". Bill Cohen adds that the Iraqis are working on a 3,000 km long-range missile that could reach the European capitals and reminds us of all the atrocities committed by their "inhumane" leader, Saddam Hussein, from gassing his population, killing members of his own family, setting fire over 500 oil fields in Kuwait and using human shields to provoke collateral damages in case of a military intervention. To the eyes of this observer it looks very much like a still image from the past. Replace Bill Cohen by Bill Cheney and you hear the same seven-year old rhetoric. So what happened?
Well, a farmer will know best. Once a fox has entered the hen house and killed half of the hens one does not redress the situation by keeping the now-demonized fox in the house and beating the hens on the head so that they somehow will force the fox to file off his teeth. Yet, this is exactly what the international community, under the leadership of the United States, has done for the past seven years or so. Note that since the fox was considered to be of some use to the farmer--to contain another unruly neighbor and to keep the house in order--the injunction was that he only file off, not pull out his teeth altogether. Finally, to keep with this bucolic analogy, grossly mistreated and malnourished hens tend to stop laying eggs to the sorrow of the consumers in distant towns and cities...
Saddam Hussein and his regime were kept in power by the Gulf War coalition, not because the goal of the war was limited to ejecting the Iraqis from Kuwait--the purpose of the Gulf War was infinitely more complex and diverse than a question of national borders in a region where tribes have long superseded nationalities--but because there was no immediate alternative and he and his regime were needed.
The wishful thinking that the Iraqi people, the so-called opposition, or members of the armed forces would get rid of the regime and his "evil" leader was quickly abandoned. The armed forces are entirely controlled by the regime and the only known opposition is either in exile in London or resting in graveyards. And, where in the Middle East, has a popular revolt ever overthrown a regime with a perfect record of cold-blooded murderous iron-grip control over its population? Furthermore, the Western nations did not want to occupy Iraq, a country divided along religious (Sunni minority and Shiite majority) and ethnic lines (Arabs and Kurds), dominated by the minority and that has kept and keeps shielding Israel from its most dangerous enemy to date, Iran. What looks absurd on the surface--and slightly ironic if this entire chess game was not so deadly dangerous--takes a more real meaning when seriously considered. Indeed things are infinitely complex in this part of the world!
So, if Saddam Hussein was needed out of necessity it did not make much sense to continue demonizing him. And if he really was such an evil, when was the last time in history when a pact with the devil ever worked? And how can one request from that individual that he gets rid of the behavior and tools that have kept him in total power for almost 20 years? It simply does not square.
The trade and financial embargo has only reinforced this contradictory policy thus compounding the miscalculations and their subsequent consequence, the present predicament.
At the end of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles inflicted drastic punitions to the German government and its people (the Middle East mess can be traced all the way back to that period). Twenty-six years later, the US and its allies, having learned from their past mistakes, took a very different route toward victory. Beside refusing any armistice and insisting on and obtaining an unconditional surrender from the Axis, essentially Germany and Japan, they embarked on an extraordinary mission of reconstruction and reconciliation. With the beginning of the Cold War a policy of containment was put in place that quickly included a component of engagement. In the past 50 years there is only one example of a policy based upon economic sanctions that has resulted in the objective proclaimed at the onset. It is in South Africa. Ironically, the two nations who were originally opposed to those sanctions on the basis that sanctions never work were Britain and the United States which reluctantly eventually joined the fray. The sanctions against Cuba have not worked. The sanctions against North Korea have not worked. The sanctions against Libya have not worked. The sanctions against Iraq are not working. Or, to be precise, they have not brought and do not bring to fruition the expected results, the very objectives upon which their implementation was based. But they work very well to hurt the respective populations.
In relation to the above, the next lesson to learn is much milder. Name-calling of friends and allies certainly does not help one to further one's agenda. But this is more of a tactical miscalculation than a fundamental one. Friends and allies will remain just that. However, to tell the French, for instance, that their outlook is purely based on commercial interests (read oil and arms) and to suggest that they do not understand the potential terrorist dangers that the world will incur if the international community does not compel the Iraqi regime to comply and desist would be almost farcical if it were not an insult to intellectual probity and to the facts at hand. France has suffered easily 100 per cent more terrorist attacks on her soil than the United States has. France and practically all the other European nations could teach a few lessons to their American friends on that subject. This said, the bottom line is that when one covets friends' help and support, one has a better chance to achieve one's objective by being less antagonistic.
Then, it is also self-evident that the United States is the de-facto world leader. As such, other countries will tend to follow the lead. This is a simple truism as long as the leader is not perceived as only serving his self-interests. The symbiosis between domestic and foreign politics that had been watered down during the cold war has come back with a revenge. To understand this would go a long way to assuage allies that the US does indeed work for the betterment of humanity, not just her own. Power must be used wisely.
So, when looking at the present situation, one should keep in mind an ancient lesson: Facts are more persistent than the London fog. Sweep them off through the door and they'll slip back through the window.
(In Part III, to be published on Sunday, we will conclude this essay by looking into the future.)