The Washington Times Opinion

Published in Washington, D.C.     5am -- December 29, 1998

The return of Saddam Hussein
Ahem. Weren't we supposed to have taught Saddam Hussein a major lesson two weeks ago when the United States and Great Britain pounded Iraq for 70 hours with all sorts of ordnance? Didn't National Security Adviser Sandy Berger brag that we had put Saddam back in his box -- a metaphor so overworked it would be a mercy if the State Department brains could come up with another one?
     Well, someone obviously forgot to tell Saddam that he's supposed to have been humiliated and his military capacities "degraded." This weekend, the Iraqis stepped up the confrontation with the United States and United Nations, insisting on an end to the U.N. oil-for-food program (which after all only benefits the Iraqi people, not its rulers), threatening that the 400 aid workers monitoring the program would be forced to leave. Of course, the weapons inspections teams from the U.N. Special Commission (Unscom) are long gone, pulled out before the Dec. 16 bombing. Iraq further started shooting at American and British planes patrolling the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq. As Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin said defiantly, "the so-called no-fly zones only exist in the British and American imagination." Yesterday, American planes started firing back, retaliating against Iraqi missiles fired in northern Iraq. And President Clinton, wearing his take-that-Saddam look, vowed to keep the skies clear over territory inhabited by Iraq's Kurdish population.
     All of which prompts the question: Did anyone actually think through what would happen if the airstrikes did not bring Iraq's mad dog to heel? Will we continue to bomb until Saddam listens to our commands? Of course, now that Ramadan is upon us, it would be a religious faux-pas to start bombing again. Just consider the case of the hapless sailor who committed the sin of writing on a 2,000 pound bomb "Here's a Ramadan present from Chad Rickenberg." This provoked the Pentagon to declare that it was "distressed to learn of thoughtless graffiti mentioning the holy month of Ramadan written on a piece of U.S. ordnance during Operation Desert Fox." Oh, dear.
     As noted by former crack weapons inspector Scot Ritter in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, "Desert Fox . . . highlighted the reality that smart bombs cannot make up for failed policies. In fact, the military strike has achieved the opposite of its intended effect. Rather than supporting the work of weapons inspectors of the United Nations Special Commission by degrading Saddam Hussein's ability to build long-range ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, the bombing has most likely destroyed any chance Unscom had to do its work effectively."
     Of course one could well argue whether Unscom was ever able really to function effectively being thwarted at every turn by the Iraqis and sometimes even by the American administration as well. Sometimes it seems a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't.
     What is clear, though, is that whatever support for keeping sanctions against Iraq in place, the only truly stable element of U.S. policy by now, has evaporated in the Security Council and among Arab states as well whose leaders this week issued a statement denouncing Operation Desert Fox at a meeting in Amman, Jordan. It will be up to the United States and Great Britain to exercise their veto power in the Security Council to keep the sanctions regime in place -- which will pretty much be the only thing that stands between Saddam Hussein and his ambitions as far as weapons of mass destruction are concerned. Do the Clinton White House and the Blair government possess that kind of backbone? Regrettably for the Iraqi people, sanction will have to remain in place until Saddam leaves office, through a coup, rebellion --or old age. Until then, he'll undoubtedly be thumbing his nose at the world.

Copyright © 1998 News World Communications, Inc.