The Mess We Made in Iraq Awaits a Broom

April 11, 1991|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS — Paris.--"When they make a desert they call it peace,'' to employ the phrase of the Roman historian, Tacitus. Peace reigns in Iraq.

Mr. Bush has righted the wrong done to Kuwait by creating a situation in which a greater wrong is done to Iraq's Kurdish and Shiite minorities, and to other Iraqis who responded to President Bush's Feb. 15 demand that the Iraqi people take matters in their own hands to depose Saddam Hussein.

This result was unforeseen, of course. The crimes are Saddam Hussein's, of course. The United States practices an unaccustomed Realpolitik, which rests, intellectually, on scenarios. The scenario of the Iraqi president's replacement in a military coup, producing a united, stable and unaggressive Iraq, HTC a force for regional balance and stability. Kurdish and Shiite uprisings, if successful, are seen as producing partition and weakness. This is not Realpolitik but a naive simulacrum.

It requires Washington to say ''too bad about the Kurds,'' just as it was too bad about the Cambodians a decade and a half ago.

The British and French governments and publics, supposed by most Americans to be better at Realpolitik than the United States, having invented it, find they don't have the stomach for what now is going on inside Iraq.

John Major, Britain's prime minister, said last week that a ''massive internal effort is necessary'' to help the Kurds. Britain supported French efforts to win a U.N. Security Council condemnation of Iraq, despite the opposition of those who saw in it improper interference in Iraq's internal affairs. The resolution asserts, for the first time, a right of ''humanitarian intervention.''

The French secretary of state for humanitarian action was in both Turkey and Iran last weekend arranging medical facilities and the effort to get food and shelter to the refugees, including by parachute drops. The U.S. picked up the idea). The West European Union, the Europeans' cooperative defense organization, is coordinating a European Community humanitarian effort.

The British prime minister is also responsible for the proposal to create security enclaves inside Iraq, which the United States has seconded. But this is a bad idea, produced in the absence of better ones.

Iraq will resist it; it amounts to de facto partition of the country -- an outcome U.S. policy also has meant to prevent. It would solve nothing except the most immediate concerns for the refugees' security.

There is only one rational solution, that the refugees in both north and south return to their homes, where the means exist for them to put their lives together again and contribute to the reconstruction of their country. For them to go home, however, Saddam Hussein's government must be removed.

We cannot in honor or honesty practice selective intervention. It would have been better never to have begun this, or to have done it by economic measures, avoiding the massive and socially destructive violence we have employed; but it is too late now. We started this, and we must now finish it.

The moral basis for a further intervention in Iraq is obvious. The U.N. Charter renounces interventions in matters ''essentially domestic,'' but when it was drafted it was clearly understood that this would not prevent actions to counter ''threats to peace.''

Iraq is in flagrant violation of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since 1948 a convention has existed condemning genocide and requiring of the Security Council ''appropriate measures'' to deal with it. There is, as well, the right nations possess to go to war. Surely no more valid casus belli could exist than that which Iraq presents today?

However, intervention in Iraq is not a hypothesis to be debated but already a fact. The U.S. Army occupies a part of Iraq. American aviation overflies the country. They do so by virtue of U.N. resolutions providing legal grounds for the war we just conducted. These resolutions were specifically reaffirmed in Resolution 687, which last week set terms for a permanent cease-fire.

To hold that the Western powers can intervene in Iraq to liberate Kuwait, and to impose conditions upon Iraq governing its possession and development of weapons, the character of its industrial development in years to come and the disposition of its income, but that it is unacceptable to intervene to prevent genocide, is logically preposterous and morally grotesque.

I am one of those who support, in general, the principle of nonintervention in the affairs of other nations. To the question of solving Iraq's crisis I would give the Maine countryman's reply, that ''I wouldn't start here to get there.''

But we are here. We chose to intervene massively in Iraq. We have no honorable alternative now to finishing what we began.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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