Back from the Brink

July 28, 1992

Once again, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has shown a pattern of failing to agree to United Nations mandates, failing to comply, and backing down a little at the last minute, mocking the U.N. all the while. He is not likely to change. He will continue to aggravate in the extreme so long as he holds power.

As the Bush administration searches for a strategy to pressure Iraq into acquiescence, the prospects of renewed military action increase. A third aircraft carrier was dispatched to the Persian Gulf yesterday and Scud-destroying Patriot missiles are headed for Kuwait. Tough talk from the White House is growing louder.

Yet it is concerted action at the United Nations that is pivotal. The sense of shared responsibility that led to the first Persian Gulf war and the liberation of Kuwait must be repeated this time if the new Iraqi threat is to be dealt with effectively. Unilateral U.S. action is insufficient. Collective action, engagement and security are paramount.

The Swedish head of the U.N. commission dealing with Iraq, Rolf Ekeus, argues strongly in favor of non-military tactics to gain Iraqi permission to search out and destroy weapons of mass destruction. "Hardly any missile, Scud missile, was destroyed through attacks," he said. "What has been destroyed is through the peaceful means of inspection. I would like to say that arms control has demonstrated that it is that way to destroy weapons, and not through bombing and attacks." Mr. Ekeus' tactics are clearly preferable, but there is a point at which diplomacy is no longer sufficient. We may be nearing that point.

New concerns are rising that Saddam, feeling emboldened by his besting of the U.N. in the latest stand-off, will increase efforts to persecute Shiite Muslims in the south and Kurds in the north. One gets the feeling Saddam is toying with the U.N.

Bill Clinton's endorsement of a get-tough American position in the Persian Gulf could make military action easier for President Bush to take. Any use of force in the heat of a presidential election campaign remains a two-edged sword, though. But Mr. Bush could have little choice, unless the Iraqi dictator turns accommodating. Voters don't like their leaders to act like wimps when a dictator turns provocative.

Nor can the U.N. put up with constant challenges from the Baghdad bully. The organization's credibility as a stabilizing force in this post-Cold War world is at stake.

We hope that negotiations prevail as more diplomatic and economic screws are turned by U.N. members to press Iraq into peaceful compliance with the mandates. The world's patience, though, is running out. Saddam cannot be allowed to trod all over the cease-fire accord much longer.

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