One Year Later, a Balance Sheet in the Gulf


August 01, 1991|By WILLIAM PFAFF

Paris. -- A year has passed since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Blockade, war and civil insurrection have followed. Kuwait has been freed of Iraqi occupation. Otherwise, nothing has been settled, although much has happened.

A judgment on the year's consequences must be provisional. The war cannot even be said to be fully over, since an allied re-intervention force is being constituted in Turkey. The situation of the Kurds and of Iraq's Shiite minority remains fragile. Iraq's nuclear and chemical disarmament remains incomplete. The U.N.'s sanctions policy is in question.

Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party remain in power, strengthened by having defied the United States and United Nations and survived. Mr. Hussein is responsible for thousands of deaths among his supporters as well as his enemies (a hundred thousand? -- no one knows, and no one on either the Iraqi or American side seems to wish to know). He is responsible for the devastation and de-industrialization of his country. Famine and disease now follow infrastructure destruction and U.N. boycott. Yet coup d'etat seems less probable than before, the ranks of prospective coup-makers depleted by arrests and executions.

The Baath Party has been revealed to its adherents as mere instrument of Mr. Hussein's personal dictatorship, system of repression and transmission belt for meretricious propaganda. It began between the wars in idealism, as a movement of pan-Arab liberation and enlightenment. Once again an attempt to make a reconciliation of Arab society with the modern world has foundered.

Kuwait has shed its occupiers, but for another generation will bear the scars of the wanton and perverse destruction inflicted by Iraq's army. The arbitrary and self-serving rule of the al-Sabah family has probably been given a blow from which it cannot recover. Unseating the stiff-necked Sheik Jaber al-Sabah was one of Saddam Hussein's objectives. In the end it probably will turn out that he succeeded.

Syria has profited and with Iran is one of the two principal beneficiaries of the war. It now dominates Lebanon, with American acquiescence, thereby bringing to Lebanon a provisional halt to civil war and the expulsion of the PLO. By joining the U.N. coalition and agreeing to the American plan for Middle Eastern peace negotiations, Damascus has transformed its diplomatic position, profited from the collapse of Soviet power and placed Washington in its debt -- to Israel's present disadvantage. The ultimate consequences of the crisis for Israel remain to be determined; they will not be known for months, perhaps for years.

Saudi Arabia's rulers, who invited this infidel intervention in the country of Islam's Holy Places, may find that in the long term they also have lost. They have added to the number of their enemies in the Middle East and accelerated change inside Saudi society. Their version of Islamic integrism has suffered, to the advantage of that of Iran.

Whether integrism itself has been strengthened in the Muslim world will not be known for some years to come. A general sense of Islamic society's victimization by the West and by the United States has certainly been strengthened, but illusions about pan-Islamic unity, the existence of an Arab nation and the decadence of the West have been removed.

In any case the attempt by Muslim fundamentalists to cope with Islam's crisis of westernization through retreat to an idealized past -- a recurrent phenomenon in colonized Asia and Africa since the early 19th century -- is inherently impractical. A revival of classical Islamic civilization is no more feasible than to re-create the civilization of medieval Christianity in the West, or the Age of Absolutism and the Sun King.

The international political balance has clearly been altered as a result of the gulf war, but less by real shifts in power than by changed perceptions of power. The United States was already the world's leading military power in August 1990; however, doubt existed about its willingness to use its power and its

competence in doing so.

The latter doubt has been ended. But it is a mistake to think that the American victory in the gulf has disposed of the ''Vietnam syndrome'' in public opinion. Events leading up to the 100-hour victory demonstrated once again how profoundly, agonizingly reluctant the American public is to go to war. The Senate's vote to approve the war was very narrow and had been made virtually inevitable by the circumstances in which it was sought: the attack was hours away and the machinery for it in action for months.

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