The Splendid Little War and After

DANIEL BERGER

March 30, 1991|By DANIEL BERGER | DANIEL BERGER,Daniel Berger is an editorial writer for The Sun.

The options for U.S. policy in Iraq are not attractive intolerable would be a politician's word, but what cannot be changed will be tolerated.

Whatever President Bush does or fails to do will be second-guessed and subjected to withering hindsight by ill-wishers. How different this will be from the 100 hours, when no one dared dissent.

The American-led destruction of Iraq's military machine created a power vacuum. It weakened, without toppling, the dictator and the secret-police state. Now Saddam Hussein fights for his regime's life, throwing all the destructive power he retains against his own people, who have been admonished by President Bush to take on their tyrant with rifles against tanks.

And yet the U.S. stands by with overwhelming strength and strange rules: Mr. Hussein may attack his people with helicopter gunships but not with fixed-wing planes. Americans may admire the Kurdish freedom-fighters but will let them starve. The administration line is that the forces have been set in motion that will achieve U.S. aims without direct U.S. involvement. Perhaps they will. It's as good a likelihood as any, but no better.

Meanwhile, critics will charge that the campaign ended too early and that General Schwarzkopf should have been told to roll into Baghdad. They will say that if this nation has ideals, it must help those who risk their lives in sharing those ideals. Never mind that this would necessitate invading populated areas, encountering resistance from Iraqis defending their homes, exposing American servicemen to ambush, departing from U.N. authority and fragmenting the anti-Iraq coalition. The people who criticize not doing it would equally criticize doing it.

Because the U.S. is so responsible for the state of affairs in Iraq, many will hold it morally responsible for whatever happens. But there was never a chance that Iraq would behave like a Western democracy. And there is none that puppeteers in Washington and the think-tanks could reshape Iraqi politics through manipulation.

Saddam Hussein's enemies are not necessarily U.S. friends. The Shiite guerrillas in the south, who are asking for U.S. aid, are proteges of the regime in Iran. They would clamp a theocracy on one of the more secular societies in the Middle East, repeal the liberation of women in the Arab country of greatest female liberation and spread the Islamic revolt elsewhere against the influence of the Great Satan in Washington.

Their allies of convenience in the north, the Kurds, have a cause which most Americans should espouse. The Kurds are part of a nation of 20 million who could easily create a modern nation-state if allowed by their neighbors to do so. Their 60-year struggle appeals to the Wilsonian ideal of national self-determination in which all Americans instinctively believe.

But a Kurdistan by its very existence would lay claim to land and people held by Turkey, the Soviet Union, Iran and Syria as well as Iraq, and thereby foment instability. The U.S. government is not going to give the Kurdish national aspiration aid and comfort, no matter what American individuals may think about that.

The other if smaller dilemma inherited from the gulf war involves Kuwait, in whose defense our soldiers and airmen died. The experience of Iraqi occupation has heightened the Kuwaiti people's aspirations while rendering the regime more remote and suspicious. Americans are likely to be unhappy as this drama plays out.

The U.S cannot put matters right either in Iraq or Kuwait, and would meet international opprobrium and counter-productive results if it tried. But many Americans are likely to become disillusioned with the efforts made.

The euphoria in this country at the splendid little war is likely to turn bitter as such frustrations mount. This can only be exacerbated by the strains of keeping Jewish, female and alcohol-consuming soldiers in an anti-Semitic, sexist and teetotaling Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Attending shul, sun-bathing and drinking beer are fundamental American rights, not Saudi ones.

This does not mean that the Bush-administration policy of protecting Saudi Arabia and restoring Kuwait by military force was wrong. It does mean that many American citizens may become less happy with that policy as the months progress.

Thus it is hard to understand why so many Democrats and pundits wrote off the 1992 presidential election as unwinnable for Democrats. True, the odds are with the incumbent. But the possibility of postwar frustrations combined with recession create the possibility that President Bush would be beatable. Democratic congressmen who are embarrassed now at their anti-war vote may be unapologetic next year.

Virginia's Gov. L. Douglas Wilder has forced Democrats to take the presidential nomination seriously by threatening to win it unopposed. He has done his party a great service. The war may indeed make President Bush invincible for re-election, but it will be another year before anyone knows. What matters is not the success of the land-action phase of that war, but to what extent it attains the desired results.

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