U.S. policy on Iraq needs review

August 11, 1998

The Chicago Tribune said in an editorial Friday:

AMONG the world's most astute observers of U.S. politics are Saddam Hussein and the members of his ruling clique in Iraq. So it was no accident that on Thursday, as Monica Lewinsky was doing her star turn before Kenneth Starr's grand jury, Iraq was bringing to crisis its latest challenge to the United Nations' weapons inspection program and the American-led coalition that has supported it.

Mr. Saddam sensed weakness at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and, predictably, decided to exploit it. Who says character doesn't count?

For years now, Iraq has been trying, by fair means and foul, to get out from under the disarmament and weapons inspection regime imposed on it in 1991 as part of the cease-fire agreement that ended the Persian Gulf War.

Earlier this year it precipitated a crisis that led to a huge buildup of U.S. and British military forces in the gulf in preparation for possible airstrikes to punish its recalcitrance on disarmament.

Annan to the rescue

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan defused that crisis by hammering out a deal with Baghdad that promised eventual relief from the sanctions in return for its cooperation with the U.N. weapons inspectors.

Now, in what Richard Butler, head of the weapons inspection effort, characterizes as "halfway into the fifth lap" of a five-lap race, the Iraqis have broken that agreement.

To be sure, their perception of President Clinton's weakness probably was not the sole motivation. At least as important was their recognition that the anti-Iraq coalition that has sustained the sanctions to this point is splintering and, indeed, may be about to come apart.

Members of the Clinton foreign policy team betray no recognition of this fact in their public remarks, but surely they also must have noticed that Russia, China and France have grown increasingly uncomfortable with sanctions, and that the United States and Britain are virtually alone in taking the hard line.

It's time, as we have argued previously, for a new approach to Iraq. What the United States ought to focus on now is keeping Baghdad from acquiring the conventional weapons -- tanks, planes and other armaments -- that would let it threaten its neighbors. It is, after all, the threats that Iraq poses beyond its own borders that are the concern of the so-called international community.

Iraq already has been stripped of most of its weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, nuclear. And they are not useful for offensive purposes in any case. The U.S. attitude about those should be simple and straightforward: Use them and we will retaliate massively, making your country unlivable.

Current policy makes the United States a prisoner as much as it does Saddam Hussein. This new approach would not only be more sustainable, but also it would be liberating.

Pub Date: 8/11/98

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