The Iraqi Gordian Knot
Part III - "No Alexander need apply"
by Gilles d'Aymery

November 23, 1997

This is the last part of a three-part article. Readers can read the first part, the "nightmare scenario" as well as the second, "Errare Humanum Est".

In negotiating with the United Nations through Russia, The Iraqi regime has scored a few points. Ambassador Richardson, the US representative to the UN can say that "Saddam blinked" but consider the following: No inspection has been held for over three weeks, giving enough time to hide whatever program the Iraqis were allegedly working on. From the six US national inspectors expelled by Iraq three weeks ago, thus precipitating the crisis, only four are back. It may well be that the difference in number is due to a normal work rotation but the perception tells another story. Perceptions count. Russia is already pleading on behalf of Iraq for easing the sanctions expeditiously. The Clinton Administration can claim victory but, contrary to its pledge that it would in no way negotiate with Saddam Hussein, it effectively did negotiate with the Iraqis by proposing to increase the quota of oil the Iraqis could sell for humanitarian purposes. In signing on to the agreement brokered by Russia and yet distancing itself from it in order to keep all its options open the Administration inadvertently demonstrates that this entire affair has long become a personal matter between the United States and the Iraqi regime. And by sending multiple signals that the sanctions will not be lifted "till the end of time or as long as he [Saddam] lasts" one has to wonder who is increasingly getting isolated from the international community, Iraq or the US? Why is it that somehow comes to mind Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus, famous for his great victories?

We came very close to implement literally a gunboat policy with overwhelming destructive force to impose our will. For what purpose exactly? To compel the Iraqi regime to let inspectors do their work so that eventually all weapons of mass destruction are destroyed. Six and one half years of total economic sanctions have not succeeded so let the guns do the talking. Overwhelming destructive force to obliterate the potential of weapons of mass destruction; the forces of Good against Evil. Who's next? Syria? Libya? Iran? All three have documented weapons of mass destruction in one form or another. Are they next? Is China on the list, and India or Pakistan?

So what is the real purpose? The eradication of all weapons of mass destruction? The removal or limitation of the terrorist attacks against western populations? The inviolability of national borders? The elimination of tyrants? The defense of Israel? The stable supplies of oil from the Middle East? The stabilization of oil prices at a level that would not be detrimental to the interests of major energy conglomerates in the industrialized world? The desire to bring the people of the Middle East into democratic modernity? Islam versus Christianity? Mere Power? All of the above? More?

What does the international community want? What does the US want? The international community is such a vague denomination. How can one ask an amorphous identity to be precise? The US keeps talking about national interests that have little in common with the rest of the world. The Middle East countries point at Israel's intransigence with the Palestinians to explain and often justify all the tin-pot tyrants in the region even if these tyrants and their precursors have long predated the creation of the State of Israel. Japan and China are fast becoming the biggest oil consumers of the region. Since there is no easy answer we are left with only one certitude, Saddam Hussein and his regime. And all the options remain on the table. They are:

  1. Launch a unilateral US military intervention.
  2. Launch an all out international military intervention with the explicit objective to remove the present Iraqi regime from power, to occupy the country for an unforeseeable future, to help rebuild the country, to destroy feudalism as well as tribalism and to instill a democratic process.
  3. Pursue subvert operations to destabilize the regime, assassinate its leader.
  4. Tighten the sanctions and reinforce them with increased military pressure.
  5. Lift the sanctions, keep a strong deterring military presence in the region as well as verifying tools (satellites, U-2) and work among friends and allies (they include France and Russia) to define the real aims of an international policy toward the Middle East and find new models of response to potential crises that prevent their occurrence in the first place instead of always reacting with gunboat policies.
The first option is difficult to assess. No one can stop the US from acting unilaterally. It may still happen if the Iraqi regime reverts itself once again or shoot at a U-2 plane, tomorrow, next month or next year. For the past seven years two US Administrations have framed the issue in the same logic as the "evil" Saddam, honor and blame. Saddam is a much better player at this game. So it's hard to imagine a positive outcome. The second option could be attractive in an age of new crusades but it is a non-starter. The third one is reminiscent of the many plots against Fidel Castro. Secretly played though constantly denied it is unlikely to succeed. In addition, the UN or the US would still have to find a new leader; not a likely prospect. No country at this time, perhaps not even the United States, wants to go in the direction of the fourth option. Ultimately, the only practical option is the last one, like it or not. Let's learn from our past miscalculations and mistakes and try not to repeat them.

Somehow we all need to learn about and understand the concept known as the Butterfly Effect. For those who are unfamiliar with this concept, the Butterfly Effect illustrates the ripple effects of any action. The often-offered example is the throw of a little stone to the ocean on the shores of Japan. The effect will eventually be felt, how microscopic it may be, on the California coast. In an intensifyingly interdependent world any action taken in one geographical location has consequences in all geographical locations, from environmental disasters to economic matters, from wars to all walks of life. We must develop mechanisms that allow the international community to find solutions to the enormously complex questions that confront all of us. Perhaps is it time to comprehend that the concept of nations has outlived its usefulness and is now obsolete. Perhaps is it time to understand that in our present frame of reference, truth is nothing more than the deadliest 5-letter word in human history.

Published November 23, 1997
[Copyright]-[Archives]-[Main Page]