Albion Monitor /Commentary

The War Party

by Alexander Cockburn

Some of the current mess can be blamed on foolish U.S. diplomacy, starting with the conduct of the secretary of state, Madeleine Albright
The war party is on the rampage. If some politicians and pundits had their way, Baghdad and a goodly swath of Iraq would be "a smoking, radiating ruin in two hours," which was the doom Gen. Curtis LeMay once boasted he could inflict on the Soviet Union.

But there's something tinny in all this drum-beating. What would bombing achieve? A lucky strike might kill Saddam Hussein, but it would be a chance in a million. Back in 1991, about a third of all U.S. air sorties were focused on this single objective, to no avail. Big bombing raids could of course inflict much damage and maybe kill plenty of Iraqis, but it's hard to see how this could add up to a major gain for the United States.

Beyond dropping bombs and lobbing missiles, there's the option of invasion with ground forces, but as yet, this seems to be a remote contingency. Aside from factors such as the lack of enthusiasm for such a project among almost all of America's allies, the United States has markedly less military manpower than it did back in 1991 when the Cold War was scarcely over.

The core problem is that the war of 1991, initiated by Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, has never been brought to an official close. United Nations resolutions required a number of things from Saddam, including access of U.N. inspectors to ensure that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction are decommissioned along with the labs and factories producing them. And since Iraq has not honored such resolutions, the country can't sell most of its oil, and many of its people go hungry.

Some of the current mess can be blamed on foolish U.S. diplomacy, starting with the conduct of the secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. Even before she arrived at the U.S. State Department, Albright delighted in hang-tough rhetoric. One of the best-remembered lines in the Middle East is her reply to a question on the subject of lifting the embargo on Iraqi oil sales. What about the half-million starving Iraqi children, an interviewer asked. "We think the price is worth it," Albright replied comfortably on "60 Minutes."

Then, last March, Albright let loose a speech stating flatly that the oil sanctions would never be lifted, so long as Saddam was still in power. The idea was to prompt someone inside Iraq to topple the dictator. This tactic failed, but the speech told Saddam he had nothing to lose. So he started obstructing the work of the U.N. arms inspectors.

In Jordan, the view is that the impasse could be broken by something as simple as a phone call from Bill Clinton to Saddam Hussein. The last time there was any official contact between the two governments was in 1990, when Secretary of State James Baker conferred with Iraq's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz.

What would Clinton tell the Iraqi leader? He could point out the futility of the present impasse and indicate that secret laboratories and factories producing biological and chemical weapons are never going to serve any useful purpose for Iraq. But crucially, he could link the decommissioning of such weapons with a lifting of the oil embargo and thus the restoration of national sovereignty to Iraq, thus an official "end" to the war of 1991.

Of course, the war party here would bellow furiously about "truckling to tyranny" and muster many such insults from its arsenal of abuse. But Clinton could point out quickly enough that in these deadlocked situations, diplomacy requires courage. He could invoke his dead friend Yitzhak Rabin or Anwar Sadat, who flew to Jerusalem to talk with Menachem Begin in 1977.

Assume such an initiative from Clinton and a positive response from Saddam. There would still be many hurdles. There are some U.N. resolutions that Saddam can never be expected to honor, pertaining to impossibly large reparations to Kuwait and to Iraq's internal political arrangements.

Such matters, along with guarantees on U.N. inspections and on a lifting of the embargo, could be settled at an international conference. This is how wars are ended. They aren't ended by threatening to fight them all over again, which is the current U.S. pose.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor February 21, 1998 (

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