Jordan's Dilemma

September 25, 1990

The anger with which the Palestinian half of Jordan's three million people support Iraq's dictator against the West, the United States, Kuwait and its royal house must send shivers up the spine of Jordan's King Hussein. It suggests what they really must think of him, his legitimacy and his usefulness to them.

Small wonder that the king, long billed as a friend of the United States, with an American-born queen, has become the world's most visible apologist for Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

King Hussein is a survivor. He has had the ability for 37 years to use his own fear creatively. But never has he been in such a difficult situation.

He has been falling more and more into the orbit of Saddam Hussein, the one a king and the other a revolutionary dictator and overthrower of kings. Before August, Iraq was Jordan's biggest trading partner, Kuwait second and Saudi Arabia third. Yet the king depended on financial support from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as well. He clung to them from fear of Israel, fear of the Palestinians, fear of Syria.

Now his friends are bitter enemies and he must choose, but he cannot, and they may choose for him. His apologies for Iraq's aggression has resulted in the eviction of most Jordanian diplomats from Riyadh and the suspension, on six hours' notice, of the greater half of his nation's oil, from Saudi Arabia.

King Hussein knows that oil from Iraq, which is bountiful, will be boycotted by other customers. Yet a tremendous fleet of trucks is seen from above shuttling between Iraq and Jordan. This violates the United Nations sanctions the king said Jordan would observe. During Iraq's war with Iran, Iraq's back door was Jordan's port of Aqaba. At that time, the rest of the Arab world applauded as this trade route flourished. Now the king broadcasts a warning to the United States on Cable Network News so that Iraq's strong man will see and appreciate his actions. He is right to fear the outbreak of war.

The king is nothing if not nimble. Americans can sympathize with him, up to a point. But his talk of mediation should be seen through. He is not trying to save peace, or national sovereignty, or the integrity of nations of which his own is the most questionable, or the Iraqi dictator. He is trying to save his crown and his skin, in a larger struggle where his own greatest concern does not greatly trouble any of his neighbors.

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