A second U.S. victory

A.M. Rosenthal

March 25, 1991|By A.M. Rosenthal

BRACE YOURSELF, everybody: They are at it again.

Some of the very experts who told Americans that Saddam Hussein would fight in the desert for months, maybe years, and would slaughter thousands of Americans, but that somehow this martial monster would crumble if we avoided war and just kept the embargo, that Muslims from Damascus to Detroit would rise up if Iraq were attacked, these same experts are again advising American readers, TV viewers and President Bush about what we ought to do, or not to do, about this same Saddam.

This time they tell us in newspaper editorials and columns and on TV talk shows that we must rush out of Iraq right away lest we get stuck in Iraqi politics, that we should not do much more about eliminating Saddam than talk mean, but not very mean, that we must not help the rebels, that fostering democracy in Iraq is not our business, that we must not destroy the "centralizing" force in the country, which what do you know turns out to be the very same Baath Party through which Saddam slaughtered his countrymen for so long. And they tell us we must make sure that Iraq remains forever "unified."

Would you believe it?

All of a sudden it becomes our job to boycott the people who have risen against Saddam. It becomes our duty to make sure that Iraq, which was cobbled together after World War I by European foreign offices, remains inviolably one down the ages, something like a new Jerusalem.

The new threat-word is "Lebanonization." We are supposed to be terrified of the idea that Iraq might split up. Remember "body bags"? Or how "the streets" -- meaning the Arab world -- were "resonating" with "resentment" against the coalition for "humiliating" Saddam?

Would any of these experts have said just before the fall of Berlin that the Nazi Party should be kept together as a centralizing force lest Germany break up?

Of course not. But then the Germans were Europeans while all we have in the Middle East is a bunch of Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds running around, who knows them, and anyway they will never understand democracy, what a thought.

We do not have to jump into the trap of trying to manage Iraq's political life or keep troops there indefinitely.

And with common sense we can avoid the danger of being lost in in the great burning political desert of the Middle East. That is the hatred of Arab against Arab, Muslim against Muslim, created and cultivated by the same monarchies, dictatorships and religious stake-tenders who fire Arab hatred of Jews and foreigners.

Our responsibilities are three, all within our capabilities. First is to give the Iraqi rebels a chance to get at Saddam before he massacres them with the heavy weapons he still commands -- get at him, overturn him and, praise the thought, kill him.

Denying Saddam full use of those weapons by air attack is militarily feasible and morally inescapable. Thousands of Iraqi civilians died in the war caused by his aggression.

Now we should not permit him to use his remaining armed power to exact a further price against his own people. Most of those weapons were sold to him by Western and communist nations, the money courtesy of our present Arab allies.

Bush has ordered Iraqi planes and helicopter gunships grounded. For this he deserves the appreciation of the world. Now Saddam should be ordered not to use his artillery and tanks to crush the rebels. Perhaps that would encourage his generals to gather close around him, revolvers finally in hand.

The second responsibility is to tell the Iranians and Syrians not to set their Iraqi puppets in power. We and our Arab allies could use persuasion: denial of economic and military aid. It won't work completely, but it might slow them down while the U.S. meets its third responsibility.

The president should state precisely what it is he wishes for Iraq: the end of dictatorship of any kind. American representatives should seek out Iraqis, Arab or Kurd, who believe their countrymen deserve better than more tyranny and are capable of carrying out something entirely new for the Muslim Middle East: a decent election.

By then, American troops would be gone from Iraq. But Iraq's political liberation would be their second victory in the desert, and one day it will be counted the greater.

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