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What went wrong in US Iraq policy?

03/07/2003

What went wrong in US Iraq policy?
02/27/2003
(reposted due to technical problems - with apologies)

Even as an American opposed to an attack on Iraq, I can understand the hawks who have long wanted to finish Saddam off at the first good opportunity. He's dangerous, and the instruments of containment were constructed with something else in mind.

Inspections, for instance, were not designed to go on forever. They were meant only to verify the post-Gulf War disarmament. Sanctions are also supposed to end at that point. No one should assume they will continue forever. Someday, a chief inspector may decide to give Iraq a clean bill of health, and then what accidentally became a multilateral containment regime will be dissolved, just like that.

The problem is that the hawks have very little sense of what the first good opportunity actually might be. If Saddam makes no mistakes -- that is, if he does nothing provocative, nothing that puts him on the wrong side of the international community -- the price for waging such a war may be stiff. In
retrospect, we would have been better off going after him in 1998, not just lamely ending the bombing after four days and letting Saddam change the status quo afterward by keeping the inspectors out.

Instead, we've made two large, unforced errors. First, we decided just to haul off and pound on Iraq, without reference to anything they'd done lately. This seemingly capricious behavior put the fear of God into most of the rest of the world, and not in a good way, either. Second, we decided to announce our intentions to Saddam, who now has nothing to lose whatsoever. We're no longer in a position to sneak up on him, assuming we ever were. He's had a lot of time to get ready. Saddam is a gambler, prone to miscalculation -- we could have waited for a more opportune moment. It's not half as urgent as some other problems we face at the moment.

The price for the first error was described nicely by Chas Freeman in today's NY Times ("Even a Superpower Needs Help" - http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/26/opinion/26FREE.html ). The price for the second error will be discovered on the battlefield.

Colin Powell has done his utmost to undo the worst damage of the first error, by rechanneling the war effort into the UN, rolling the clock back to the 1998 status quo ante by getting inspectors back into the country, and daring Saddam to defy the Security Council once more. This has yielded up the Iraqi provocation required for the US to act without stirring up a huge backlash, but only a minimal version thereof. Saddam's salami-slicing tactics have assured this -- should we go to war for a handful of empty
chemical rockets? Over delays in permitting overflights or destroying missiles? A stray bio-bomb?

And ultimately, no one has forgotten that we openly sought the war from the start. Even though we produced a legitimate Iraqi provocation, we still produced it. It's tainted. The main issue has become the uses and abuses of American power.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000038.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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