the Senate hearings on a possible American attack on Iraq were generally disappointing,
an inclination to ask questions does seem to have surfaced as the possibility
of such a war becomes more imminent. Certainly the comments from House Majority
Leader Dick Armey about the inadvisability of attacking a country without a substantial
justification for the attack offer a shred of hope that second thoughts might
at least slow down if not actually prevent the apparently inevitable decision
to try to effect a "regime change" in Iraq through military means.
I talked to a veteran diplomat and an expert on world energy markets about these
and other issues last week, and my main purpose this week is to report what they
said rather than try to impose my own views on them. Don't be surprised, however,
if some of my own views creep in.
A FRENCH VIEW
I talked first with Mr. Jean-Luc Sibiude, the Consul
General of France in the Los Angeles office, who was visiting Orange County under
the auspices of the county's protocol office. I was pleased to be able to get
his perspective because Mr. Sibiude began his diplomatic career in Iraq, in 1971.
He has also served in Jordan, at the United Nations covering the Middle East,
and as the French foreign ministry's Ambassador in charge of the Middle East peace
process. Although, like any diplomat, he is by definition an exponent of his country's
interests and policies and must usually speak carefully, he does have relevant
talked first about the Israeli-Palestinian mess. Mr. Sibiude laments that the
insight of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that Israelis
must fight terrorism as if there were no peace process and simultaneously conduct
the peace process as if there were no terrorism seems to have been forgotten
by all during the current violence. He believes that eventually the outcome most
experts hope for two independent states living sometimes uncomfortably
but mostly peacefully side by side, probably without a Palestinian right-of-return
and with most Israeli settlements on the West Bank disassembled will happen
eventually. But he doesn't anticipate it happening any time soon, especially given
the leaders of the two entities. The political will is simply not there.
Sibiude notes that Ariel Sharon was elected on a security platform, but Israelis
have to be asking themselves now if they feel safer than before he was elected.
But the main deterrent to progress, he believes, is the inability on the
Palestinian side as well to try to pursue two goals that some might view
as incompatible security and peace negotiations simultaneously.
But national leaders are supposed to deal in difficult goals and possess some
it comes to Iraq, where he has spent considerable time, Mr. Sibiude is emphatic
that the Iraqi people, with whom France used to have close relations, would undoubtedly
be better off if this dictator were not running their lives. While maintaining
a certain appropriate diplomatic discretion, however, he noted that that is just
the beginning of the questions that need to be considered.
that Saddam Hussein is a bad ruler, is it the responsibility of the Western world
or the United States to get rid of him? Even if he has developed weapons of mass
destruction, under what conditions do we the United States or Europe or
both have a moral right to initiate military action against him? If we
have a moral right, what risks will be involved? Even if a military campaign is
successful, how complicated will the situation be in the aftermath? Will U.S.
or European troops be required essentially to occupy Iraq for a number of years
to ensure stability?
situation in Iraq is nowhere near so clear-cut as was the case before the first
Gulf War, when Iraq had invaded its neighbor Kuwait. Nor does the situation have
the moral or political clarity that seemed to be the case after September 11.
At that time it quickly became clear that the attack had been orchestrated by
al Qaida, which had been harbored in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.
Hussein has unquestionably been brutal to the people he rules, but he has avoided
overt aggression of the kind that might provide an impeccably defensible justification
for military action against him.
Sibiude believes that most of the Iraqi people are sick of Saddam Hussein
perhaps even more sick and tired than Western nations are with his cat-and-mouse
international machinations. But he notes that this is a regime that rules by terror
and the price for speaking out is often death. So it would be foolish to predict
whether the regime will ever change from within before Saddam, who appears to
be in reasonably decent health and takes care of that health, departs the scene
by assuming room temperature.
Mr. Sibiude notes, Iraq has a long history and a rich cultural heritage. When
he served there in the 1970s, he was especially impressed with the ability of
Iraqi architects, scientists, engineers, doctors and other professionals. He believes
that despite the long years of dictatorship there is plenty of talent in Iraq
to fill whatever void would be left by the ending of Saddam's regime. And his
sources say there is an increasing hunger for more freedom and personal liberty.
The implication is that it might not be as "necessary" as some have
predicted that an occupation force stay in and run Iraq for years if Saddam is
does all this mean the United States should do? Mr. Sibiude responded with Gallic
reserve reinforced by the fact that his government doesn't yet have an
official position that it's not his place, but he hopes U.S. leaders will
consult with friends and allies.
in all, perhaps because of his personal knowledge of how bad Saddam has been for
country, he was less hostile to the idea of some kind of action against Saddam,
perhaps up to and including military action, than I had expected. Whether this
means that the French government, despite some of the usual taunting, is more
interested in cooperating with the United States than in baiting the "hyperpower"
in the wake of recent French elections I do not profess to know.
also talked at some length with Ann-Louise Hittle, Senior Director at Daniel Yergin's
(author of The
Prize on world oil markets and The
Commanding Heights on economic changes and globalism) Cambridge Energy
Research Associates about the possible effects on the oil market. I came away
believing that a war in Iraq is more likely to destabilize the region and drive
up oil prices than to increase stability, although Ms. Hittle was careful to remind
me that there are so many variables and unknowns that hard-and-fast predictions
are the stuff of foolishness.
war would almost certainly take the 2 million barrels a day Iraq now exports off
the market, Ms. Hittle said. While that may not seem like that much in a world
that uses 75 million barrels a day, it would nudge prices up perceptibly. In fact,
she believes that talk of a possible war has already pushed oil prices to artificially
if Iraq tried to sabotage Saudi or Kuwaiti facilities during a war, or if Iraqi
oil facilities were seriously damaged, oil prices could rise dramatically. In
addition, it would not be safe to assume that a successor regime to Saddam would
be as friendly to U.S. interests as some assume. Ms. Hittle noted that Iraqi oil
facilities have been stretched to their limits and have received little in the
way of upgrading or even routine maintenance over the last several years. So even
if a successor regime wanted to increase oil exports it might take a considerable
amount of time before this would be feasible.
I suggested that Saudi Arabia had been somewhat back-and-forth in its attitude
toward American desires to take out Saddam, Ms. Hittle hastened to remind me that
there was no back-and-forth at all. The Saudis have consistently opposed the idea
of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the announcement last week that they would resist
U.S. use of facilities on Saudi soil in such an effort was consistent with previous
is another contrast to the situation prior to the first Gulf war. Back in 1990
and 1991 (whether wisely or opportunistically) the Saudis invited almost
insisted on U.S. military help in resisting what it then saw as the threat
from Saddam Hussein, who had invaded and occupied their mutual neighbor, Kuwait.
Ms. Hittle noted that for better or worse, the Saudis, for all their shortcomings,
have been a key player in keeping oil prices fairly steady over the years. We
may deplore the OPEC cartel (I certainly do) but U.S. policymakers have generally
depended on and supported its efforts to prevent big surprises in world oil markets.
The RAND report on Saudi Arabia as an enemy could undermine this role. In the
long run that might not be such a bad idea, but in the short run it could mean
unpleasant oil-price surprises.
All this is most interesting. As the possibility
of a U.S. attack on Iraq becomes more imminent, we're beginning to see voices
and not just anti-establishment voices raising concerns and cautions.
President Bush and his advisers on Wednesday made a concerted effort to assure
Arab and European countries that the U.S. would weigh its options carefully before
launching a military invasion.
most fascinating, as mentioned earlier, is that House Majority leader Dick Armey,
perhaps as consistent a conservative as Congress has seen in recent years, warned
that an unprovoked attack would violate international law and "not be consistent
with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation." Former
National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, a close associate of former Secretary
of State Henry Kissinger has urged caution, as have Republican Senators Richard
Lugar of Indiana and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
this does not seem to be a response of fear in the face of blowhard warnings from
Saddam Hussein, or even doubts that the United States could prevail in a military
engagement (though it might be messier than some pundits predict). Instead, it
stems from concern about what kind of country the United States is and should
be, what kind of example it sets for the world.
times past the United States has taken pains to at least appear to be on the side
of the angels in military conflicts; even the Gulf of Tonkin incident, dishonest
as it was in retrospect, arose out of a desire to seem to be operating defensively
rather than aggressively. The idea has been to appear to confront clear-cut examples
of aggression or to make it clear that our actions are defensive and taken more
in sadness and from concern for justice than in anger.
drumbeat for an attack on Iraq has abandoned this tradition, which leaves an increasing
number of Americans uncomfortable.
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