Once again, George and Saddam

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By Fawaz Turki

Published — Thursday 5 December 2002

Last Update 5 December 2002 3:00 am

The cover of Newsweek showed two US soldiers in full combat gear, weapons at the ready. The caption asked: Bush’s Invasion, How High A Price?

The issue of the magazine was dated Jan. 1, 1990, the subject was Panama, and the president in question of course was Bush pere.

Now Americans, polls show, are convinced that war with Iraq — whether or not Baghdad cooperates fully with weapons inspectors — is both predictable and inevitable, though many know that far fewer of their soldiers will die in the desert than ordinary Americans are killed annually — around 17,500 — by their gun-toting fellow Americans, who value, as Charlton Heston would put it, their “constitutional right to bear arms.”

It is not altogether clear that a war with Iraq is as predictable and inevitable as militarists hope and pacifists fear. What is clear is that should authorities in Baghdad miscalculate, their country will face the near certainty of an American-led invasion, whose attendant consequences will be devastation of Iraqi society, a la 1991, and this time the overthrow or physical extinction of its top leadership.

So far the picture that has emerged, since the inspectors began their work more than a week ago, was rosy: full compliance by seemingly solicitous government officials who have opened the gates of their research complexes and arms factories without delay; and state-run newspapers, which between 1991-98 heaped abuse on UN inspectors as “spies” and “agents of American imperialism” who sought to prolong their work in order to justify the sanctions on the country, have turned off the scorn-button.

But truth be told, even if the inspectors finally find no evidence that Iraq has developed or is developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Bush’s long duel with Saddam will not end there.

Bush, it appears, has his finger on the trigger.

True, he has declared his intention to present any Iraqi transgressions to the Security Council before he acts, but he has also repeatedly said that the US will go to war alone if necessary were the council to refuse to act itself. Never before has an American president been more willing, or itching, to go to war.

Saddam has until Dec. 8 to give a “full and complete” declaration of the WMD in his possession. If he continues to claim that he has none, and if the inspectors show that the claim is false, the US will feel justified, even entitled, by its interpretation of international law, to invade without waiting for the inspectors’ final report.

Saddam Hussein, in other words, should come clean: His declaration that he has no WMD must mean just that, for even if a small stockpile of these dreadful weapons is concealed, and later discovered, he may not be able to save his country, his regime and his head.

Unlike the period between the end of the Gulf War and 1998, when the Iraqi president played hide and seek with the inspectors, today the US, the UN and the world community in toto will not only be reluctant to indulge him, but they appear ready to show zero tolerance for any prevarications on his part.

Soon after the unanimous Security Council resolution was passed, the Economist, mirroring the view of many foreign policy intellectuals in the US and elsewhere, editorialized: “Now that the Security Council has offered Saddam this somber ‘final opportunity,’ its credibility really is in peril. If Saddam pokes even half a finger in the world’s eye, Mr. Bush will deserve the Security Council’s support when he resorts to war, especially from those members who have lately made such a song and dance about America’s tendency to act alone.”

But the seminal question here is this: What happens in the event, unlikely or not, that Saddam Hussein, departing from the norms of his modus operandi, does indeed scrupulously comply with every demand made by the Security Council? Would the US president, who has made “regime change” in Baghdad the focus of his foreign policy, just eat humble pie, and do what Washington could never bring itself to do in Vietnam — declare victory and leave Iraq the heck alone?

That’s what the US administration should do — declare victory of a policy that ultimately resulted in the nonviolent disarming of Iraq of its putative weapons of mass destruction. But what the administration should do may not be what it will do, given the fact that this is an administration dominated by hawks that, unlike its predecessor, is not distracted by Big Power concerns, such as the end of the Soviet Union, the reunification of Germany, peace in the Middle East, and war in the Balkans. Or, for that matter, concerns about the enormous cost to the American taxpayer of a war clearly fraught with unpredictable consequences.

Analysts are already projecting that, unlike the Gulf War in 1991, when the US mounted an effort to get its allies to help pay for it, with the bill to Americans standing at a comparatively low $7 billion, this time around, according to Congressional staff and experts at Washington think tanks quoted last week by the Washington Post, the cost of an invasion of Iraq will be a staggering $100 to $200 billion, with economists believing that the indirect costs of war would be much greater, reverberating through the US economy for many years.

Judging by his rhetoric, and rhetoric is as good a judge as any in this instant, Bush fils is determined to finish the job that Bush pere never got round to doing — remove Saddam from the scene. And when we daily read reports of Bush sticking, well, to his guns, we also know that the American president, like Milli Vanilli, is lip syncing, in this case the marshall songs of his hawkish advisors, who are hellbent on going to war anyhow, come what may, at any cost.

Oh, for those halcyon days of the Clinton presidency, when innocent fun was the rage, with Yitzhak and Yasser on the White House lawn shaking hands, Monica in the Oval Office doing her thing, and Madeleine in Ramallah calling for time out. In the dour Washington of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, et. al., innocent fun is hard to come by.

Don’t look at me, I didn’t vote for the man. ([email protected])

Arab News Opinion 5 December 2002

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