Bush hasn't made case for U.S. going to war over Kuwait BUILDUP IN THE GULF

November 18, 1990|By James Webb

Upon hearing that the U.S. approach to solving the Kuwaiti dilemma is laying the foundation for addressing crises in the post-Cold War period, Americans should be holding onto their wallets and hiding their draft-age kids.

?3 Despite the celebratory rhetoric, the structure

that is emerging is not an encouraging one for those who wish to see other nations assume their share of keeping the world peace. It is also cynical and naive. And beyond all that, it is getting in the way.

The problem, at least initially, was not the face of the new world order. It was that Iraq, for the third time since 1961, was making a move on Kuwait. And the other two times the problem was solved rather quickly. In 1961, Britain pre-empted an Iraqi invasion by positioning troops inside Kuwait itself; after the Kuwaitis paid a rather handsome bribe to the Iraqis, the crisis was over. In 1973, Iraqi troops occupied portions of Kuwait for almost a month (it hardly even made the papers in the United States) before the Soviets, and another Kuwaiti ransom, persuaded them to withdraw.

This time, while weak diplomatic signals all but invited the Iraqi invasion, an overlarge commitment of ground forces, coupled with a strategy that went beyond the Kuwait invasion to the demise of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein himself, has created a high-stakes paralysis, particularly for the United States.

It has also made the crisis more of a test of George Bush's presidency than of international mettle. The evolving formula for the so-called "new world order" seems to be that U.S. force will be the solution of choice, no matter what the economic and diplomatic interests of other nations might be. The other nations that so praise us for our effort have shown up only in token numbers. Many of these, most notably Egypt, Syria and France, have either hinted or directly stated that they would not join an offensive against Iraq. Japan and Germany, already the biggest winners in the Cold War, have no plans to put forces at risk.

The United States, whose principal sources of foreign oil are Canada, Mexico and Venezuela, would hardly be the greatest beneficiary of its own war against Iraq. And yet we know who will pay -- U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, as well as U.S. taxpayers, who will foot the bill for rebuilding a shattered military.

The Soviets have adeptly played both sides of the crisis. It is no exaggeration to say that our president now must depend on the Soviet Union for the success of his foreign policy, just as he has come to depend on the Democrats for the success of his domestic policy. If Saddam Hussein backs down, the Soviets will take credit for having helped create the so-called new world order, at absolutely no national risk. If war comes, the Soviets, as net oil exporters, will benefit economically while losing nothing militarily. At the same time, they will most likely establish themselves as intermediaries once the time arrives for us to untie the Gordian knot of war in the region.

Our leaders have also made a series of trade-offs for the support of other nations in this effort. Some of these trade-offs are unknown to us. Many may come back to haunt us.

Why did we turn a blind eye to the Syrians when, only a few weeks ago, they conducted the same sort of aggression in Lebanon that Iraq perpetrated in Kuwait, even to the point of assassinating Christian militiamen? Why did Secretary of State James A. Baker III announce, standing at the side of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, the beginning of a movement toward normalizing relations with the Communist government of Vietnam, at the very moment in history that an Eastern Europe-style dissent movement had begun to make an impact inside Vietnam? Why are we on the verge of rewarding the Vietnamese Communists for supporting internationally supervised elections in Cambodia when they have failed to live up to their agreement, in the 1973 peace accords, to allow full and free elections in Vietnam itself?

While there may have been a moment early on where pre-emptive air strikes could have forced Mr. Hussein's hand, placing a massive contingent of ground troops in the region has done nothing more than force the president's hand. Our ground forces are there because the president, on his own prerogative, sent them. We are now hearing that, unless a negotiated settlement is reached, the only option is to use them, lest we lose our international credibility.

This should give all of us pause. The long-term ramifications are immense of beginning a ground war in a region known for its temporary alliances and enduring hatreds. In addition to the obvious problems at home and in the region brought on by military and civilian casualties, the list of probabilities includes an Arab-Israeli war, the re-emergence of Iran as the dominant regional power, the emergence of the Soviets as the world power of greatest influence in the region, and a long-term U.S. presence as we pick up the pieces.

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