The Arab nightmare

A.M. Rosenthal

October 10, 1990|By A.M. Rosenthal

ALMOST EVERY day, a particularly important falsehood keeps popping up about the choice facing the United States in the Iraqi crisis.

The choice is between trying to find a diplomatic formula that would persuade Saddam Hussein to get out of Kuwait but would leave him with military power, or seizing the moment to destroy him so that he can never again use his tanks, planes,poison gas and missiles to blackmail the world.

The falsehood: Israel is virtually the only foreign country that believes military action is the best course for the United States to take.

Most often this lie spills out of the brew that is kept aboil by Israel-haters of the American right and left.

That is nasty enough in itself. But the danger is that it is coming to be assumed as true by many Americans who are not anti-Israel, but simply do not want to enter a war that only Israel supports. The assumption is becoming so pervasive that Zbigniew Brzezinski points to it as one of the risks of military action.

"At some point the public might blame Israel for allegedly having pressed America to go to war against Iraq for the sake of Israeli interests," he wrote on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times.

Possibly, but the admirable Brzezinski could have diminished the risk by adding another sentence about what he and other sophisticated opponents of military action know but often neglect to point out: The current Arab allies of the United States believe that to leave Saddam Hussein's power intact would be a disaster they could not survive.

Arab rulers opposing Saddam Hussein know that if he stays in power he will be victorious in the minds of the Arab world, defeating them and the combined political and economic strength of the West. They will be the losers in their own homeland, frighteningly next door to Saddam Hussein, not thousands of miles away in Washington or Europe.

The Saudi monarchy is likely to be brought down in a year or two by its internal enemies strengthened by agents dispatched by Iraq. If they are not eliminated immediately the Saudis and other Persian Gulf princes will once again try to buy off Saddam Hussein with oil billions.

President Mubarak of Egypt will find it impossible to stay in office for more than a couple of years. Some Egyptians who support him believe it may take the Egyptian fundamentalists that much time to overthrow him, not more.

But State Department specialists, who talked about Saddam's peaceful intentions before he attacked Kuwait, now put out stories about how to contain him peacefully. Nothing is more dangerous than diplomats trying to justify past mistakes by duplicating them in new policies.

So fantasies are floated. We will create a new order to protect the Middle East.

What Arab government would be stupid enough to sign up with this new, make-believe alliance if Saddam Hussein is left with a poison gas shell in his hand and his gangs of terrorists searching Arab capitals for high-ranking victims?

We will leave troops and stocks of weapons behind to deter the Iraqis, say the diplomats. Really? Name the Arab leaders suicidal enough to keep sliver Western units on their territory after full Western force was withdrawn unused.

"We will put an embargo on arms sales to Saddam." Sure, sure, but how do we deal with the production of the huge arms and chemical factories that the West and the Soviet Union already have built for him?

No Arab despotism is worth American lives. But the only justifiable reason for the U.S. intervention was not for their sake, but for our own -- to prevent one bitterly hostile dictator from dominating the Mideast, turning its oil on and off as his hatred of the U.S. moved him.

Out of Kuwait, but still in power, he will be able to stand astride the Middle East as he never could before the invasion.

Arab rulers who oppose him will either be killed or do what he tells them. He will control them and their oil by telephone.

Yes, the Israeli government favors military action, but not joyfully and not just with its mouth. Saddam Hussein is unlikely to go down without trying to strike Israel. The gas masks are not a propaganda stunt.

President Bush will make his own decisions in his own time. But it could help if he told Americans beforehand the full story about which countries support or oppose military action and why. He owes that to himself for the support he will need, one way or the other.

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