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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Strike Will Backfire




The more one thinks about the U.S. government's stated rationale for bombing Iraq, the less convincing it seems. Even someone like me, a critic of the Iraqi regime's human-rights record for 20 years and a public opponent of Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, finds it difficult to accept the various U.S. explanations for pursuing a shortsighted policy that will bring further death and destruction to an already traumatized society.


Is the objective to defeat a dangerous dictatorship? But how does launching smart bombs from afar bring about a democracy? Why would bombing Baghdad miraculously produce a government that respects human rights or a society that obeys the rule of law? And how many sorties will be necessary to find and kill Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (as some bellicose commentators have openly called for) and rouse the population against the Iraqi regime (as some senators have suggested)?


I see a different outcome of a sustained bombing campaign: a weakened Iraq even more vulnerable to interference from its neighbors, either those frightened by the prospect of lawlessness in Iraq or those who take advantage of the chaos to extend their influence.


Or is it a matter of enforcing United Nations resolutions? Other countries have failed to implement UN resolutions. But it appears that only Iraq must implement them all. Furthermore, what incentive does Iraq have to comply? In a now-famous speech delivered in March 1997, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ruled out normalization of relations with the present regime, even if it were to satisfy the requirements of all relevant international resolutions. Is the United States' purpose to make Saddam understand that whatever he does (even full compliance), he will remain a pariah?


Weapons of mass destruction? The world is full of them. At least six Middle Eastern countries have built chemical or biological weapons. Israel went nuclear years ago, and has adamantly refused to sign the nuclear nonproliferation treaties. And while most -- if not all -- of Iraq's Scud missiles have been destroyed in the past few years, seven Middle Eastern nations have been improving their ballistic missiles.


Protecting Saddam's enemies? The ongoing Kurdish civil war is killing as many Kurds as the Iraqi regime has. And Iran, a past victim of Iraq's chemical weapons, has developed weapons of its own in an effort to deter such an attack. Moreover, the worst massacres today (in Rwanda, Algeria, Tajikistan and elsewhere) have been accomplished with the most rudimentary and archaic weapons.


Lying to UN inspectors? But what country does not attempt to conceal details about its military capabilities or experiments with new weapons? Will bombing convince Iraq to be the only country that reveals everything?


The only explanation I can find for Washington's relentlessness against Iraq is U.S. frustration with its dwindling credibility in Mideast politics. Certainly the past few months have been full of setbacks for the United States. It has failed to keep humanitarian concerns about the health of Iraqi citizens, particularly children, from spreading among governments and international organizations; failed to prevent the thawing of Iraq's relations with most of its neighbors; failed to predict the election of Mohammed Khatemi as president of Iran; failed to prevent the return of European diplomats and businesses to Iran; failed to impose harsher sanctions on Libya; and, above all and largely the cause of the other setbacks, it has failed to move forward the Arab-Israeli peace process. Essentially, the administration of President Bill Clinton cannot sustain an aimless war process in the Gulf while it is utterly unable to revive the peace process in the Levant.


The United States needs to reorder its own objectives and clearly state that achieving Iraq's disarmament (the original goal of UN Resolution 687, which was part of the cease-fire that ended the Gulf War) is the only goal at stake here. At the same time, the United States should halt any attempts to destabilize the Iraqi regime and it should seek to ease the UN sanctions -- which are punishing the most vulnerable sectors of Iraqi society rather than the regime itself.


Dealing with Iraq calls for better tactics than bombing it every now and then, or depriving its population of food, medicine, drinking water and access to education. Sanctions are not an alternative to war. Nor do they stir a country to rebel against its leaders. Instead, they seem to have unified Iraqis and galvanized support for the Iraqi government's rejection of the open-ended nature of the sanctions.


Hence, the United States must pursue other means for disarming Iraq. One model is the talks that ended the 1994 confrontation over North Korea's nuclear program. A permanent monitoring committee in Baghdad, drawn from pro-Western Arab countries, is a possibility that should be explored. Meanwhile, the UN secretary-general must assume direct supervision over the inspection commission, which would restore credibility to a process that has been tainted by the inspection teams' unbalanced composition and by America's evident use of the UN umbrella to further its own objectives.


To be effective, any disarmament policy has to be regional, because Iraq is rightly thinking about how it could defend itself in the future against neighbors who have substantially increased their military power since the Gulf War. Singling out Iraq for unilateral disarmament in the Middle East is a recipe for disaster. It would push any Iraqi leader -- Saddam or his successor -- to be obsessed with rearmament, much the way Germany was after the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I.


Regional stability is threatened just as much by a too-weak Iraq as it is by a too-strong one. Turkish troops continue to make forays across the northern Iraq border. Iran bombed the camps of Iranian opposition groups based in southern Iraq last September. Is the Clinton administration ready and able to contain the instability incited by a totally handicapped government in Baghdad? If it isn't, it should prepare itself. Because that's where its current policy will inevitably lead.


Ghassan Salame is professor of international relations at the Institut d'?tudes Politiques in Paris. He contributed this comment to The Washington Post.