Raise the Ante on Iraq

Andrew B. Schmookler

September 29, 1990|By Andrew B. Schmookler

SILVER SPRING — Silver Spring.---OK. LET'S SAY the ''optimistic'' scenario plays out. The weight of international opinion and the pinch of the embargo compel Saddam Hussein to meet our terms. He pulls his troops out of Kuwait and lets our people go. A successful resolution of the crisis? I think not.

The status quo ante is not good enough. Even before the invasion of Kuwait, some observers called Saddam Hussein ''the most dangerous man in the world.'' Even before this crisis, the world stood on the threshold of a new era still awaiting definition: Would the world, freed of the bonds of the Cold War, slide backward into the chaos of global fragmentation or forward toward a more secure and just world order?

Mr. Hussein's unprovoked aggression has thus handed the world an opportunity: A great danger to Middle East peace can be removed, and, still more important, the whole world community can indelibly impress upon the new era its resolve to substitute the rule of law for the ancient regime of might-makes-right.

We'll lose this opportunity if Saddam Hussein is allowed to meet our present terms and return within his borders with his capacity for mischief intact for the next time, when perhaps he'll have nuclear warheads with which he could hold even the rest of us hostage.

We have to raise the ante: A satisfactory resolution must include the ''defanging'' of Iraq. Not only should there be no ''next time'' from Mr. Hussein, but the next would-be empire-builder should look at his fate and shudder.

Toppling Mr. Hussein is less essential than removing his teeth and claws. We must insist: Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear threats must be removed, its troops and armor cut back to defensive levels.

No orderly society lets a convicted armed robber pack a gun. Neither should the world community. ''In view of Saddam Hussein's unjustified invasion of his neighbors twice in a decade,'' the indictment might begin, ''and his continued defiance of the world community. . . .''

There may be no need to rush to a resolution of the crisis. But we must not wait too long before putting this new demand on the table. Once Mr. Hussein says he will comply with the insufficient demands of Resolution 661, it will be too late.

If Mr. Hussein remains defiant, whether and when this new demand is articulated will not matter. The world will then have to choose whether to back down from its lesser demands or use force to get Iraq out of Kuwait. If we strike, we can achieve all our purposes -- articulated and not -- at the same time.

But in case this situation is resolved peacefully, we'd better make sure that a settlement that meets ''our'' terms serves our purposes.

It is important that, as much as possible, ''our'' purposes be understood to mean those of the world community, not just those of the American superpower. Perhaps, for diplomatic purposes the visible initiative in articulating this escalation of demands should not be from the U.S. The British, who among the voices in the world chorus already seem to be singing the part of verbal toughness, might lead the way. Ideally, this demand should ultimately be embodied in a U.N. Security Council Resolution.

But, it might be objected, does not the escalation of demands increase the chance of war? Is the man who has refused to relinquish Kuwait likely to consent to being disarmed?

It would be best if the world community can accomplish these aims without firing a shot. This may happen, though it would probably be -- in the aftermath of a coup in Baghdad -- over Saddam Hussein's dead body.

But if it takes war to do what is necessary, so be it. A quick and easy peace may squander our chance for lasting global peace. A war waged in the right context, couched in the right meanings, may cement a global commitment to a lawful world order.

Advocates of world order tend reflexively to favor a negotiated solution over one imposed by force. But in this crisis we may have to choose between a peaceful settlement that helps perpetuate war, and a war that helps create the framework for genuine peace.

Peace is not served by a negotiation that would leave a megalomaniac with intensified resentments and the chance to seize the world's center stage again in a few years with nuclear-armed missiles. War can become, if necessary, as a pivotal event in the assertion of the rule of law over the rule of power.

For the United States, it is not a matter of war instead of diplomacy. Making sure that war, if it comes, is understood as helping to create a just world order -- this is a diplomatic challenge of the highest order. But realizing the opportunities for civilization's evolution represented by the present moment requires of us also a readiness for war.

****Andrew Bard Schmookler is the author of ''The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution.''

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.