Anyone watching Iraqi satellite television these days might easily conclude that the whole world is rising against the United States and in support of president Saddam Hussein.
The channel — owned by Saddam’s eldest son, Uday — is broadcasting images of the despot being showered with rose petals. These images fade into portraits of some of Iraq’s “noble friends,” including the American Noam Chomsky, Britain’s Tony Benn, France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, Austria’s Jörg Haider, and Russia’s Gennadi Zyuganov. These in turn fade into images of antiwar rallies from London to San Francisco, and passing by Berlin.
In a sense, Uday’s reporting of the current debate between the “don’t touch Saddam” lobby and those urging military action, is not so wide of the mark. Uday is right in saying that that the real issue is whether or not to let Saddam remain in power and do as he pleases.
Since politics is about making choices and taking sides, it is clear that the “don’t touch Saddam” crowds have made their choice, and taken the side of the tyrant. Only they are not honest enough to admit it in public. Uday is doing it for them.
The “don’t touch Saddam” crowds are, naturally, trying to hide behind the United Nations, the last refuge of the scoundrel. Their current mantra is: Let’s have another Security Council resolution to stop American “unilateralism.”
All of which, of course, is pure hypocritical nonsense.
The U.S. can exercise “unilateralism” within the Security Council by vetoing any resolution it doesn’t like. So can Britain, Russia, China, and France. All the fuss, therefore, is not about unilateralism. Nor is it about respect for the U.N.
Over the past 17 years, Saddam has violated 19 Security Council resolutions, including one that ended his war against Iran in 1988, and could claim a place in The Guinness Book of Records.
The first Security Council resolution on Iraq, passed just days after Saddam annexed Kuwait in August 1990, insisted that he comply with U.N. demands within 60 days.
Saddam has also violated the terms of the ceasefire he signed following his defeat in 1991, by continuing to fire against coalition aircraft monitoring the ceasefire. Thus, legally speaking, Saddam Hussein is and has been at war against the United Nations since August 2, 1990.
Saddam has also violated resolution 1441, the latest from the Security Council, on at least three counts:
He has restricted inspections to sites agreed upon in 1998.
He has failed to provide a complete account of his weapons of mass destruction. (His 12,000-page ” report” has been exposed as a sham even by the rather credulous Hans Blix.)
He has started a psychological war against U.N. inspectors by branding them as spies. This is no mere hyperbole of the type Saddam specializes in. The “spy” label is used to frighten Iraqi scientists who might want to talk to the inspectors. (Under Iraqi law, any association with a foreign spy is punishable by death.)
The real debate, therefore, is not about international law and the role of the U.N. in enforcing it. The “don’t touch Saddam” lobby have a hidden agenda: to postpone military action against him until the current window of opportunity for toppling him is closed.
Military and political experts agree that, if there is going to be action against Saddam, the most suitable time frame is between February 15 and March 15 of this year.
The period before February 15 will be dominated by hajj, Islam’s greatest annual pilgrimage, which draws more than two million people to Mecca from all over the world. Starting a war in Iraq at that time might mean playing into the hands of radicals who, though they hate Saddam Hussein, could seize the opportunity to vent their anger against the U.S. and its allies in the Muslim world.
The period after March 15 will coincide with 40 days of traditional mourning (beginning with the month of Muharram) for Shiites. Shiites make up the majority of the Iraqi people and their support is crucial for overthrowing Saddam.
If action is to be taken, therefore, it would be best started in the third week of February to be concluded by the first week of March. A new Iraqi regime could then attend the Arab summit to be held in Bahrain in the third week of March.
The U.S. can, of course, hold its hand in the hope that the Arab summit will implement the “last-chance scenario” that is the talk of the town in Arab capitals these days.
That scenario would see a delegation of Arab leaders traveling to Baghdad to persuade Saddam Hussein to take a “vacation,” handing over power to an interim government dominated by his Baath Party.
The new government would give U.N. inspectors the addresses of a few of the secret sites where part of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are hidden. Blix would then be shown on television “neutralizing” a few cans of deadly germs and perhaps breaking a few missiles. Everyone would presumably be happy, and Saddam could return to power after “a decent interval.”
The “don’t touch-Saddam” lobby are hoping that the intense heat of the Iraqi summer would eventually postpone military action until autumn. Would the U.S. be able to maintain almost 200,000 troops, the bulk of its fighting force, in a “Desert of the Tatars” situation — waiting and watching for almost a year?
Saddam Hussein has lived from one U.N. resolution to another for the past 17 years. He would love plenty of other U.N. resolutions. What could a new resolution demand that all the 19 others have not? And isn’t it the case that at least four of the previous resolutions contain a clear threat of force as a response to Iraqi non-compliance?
Saddam Hussein has been there, seen all that, and bought the T-shirt, many times over.
Supposing there is another U.N. resolution, and he violates it again? Should we go back to the Security Council for yet another resolution, ad infinitum?
It is vital that the debate be focused on the real issue, which is: Should the world allow Saddam Hussein to continue to oppress the Iraqi people and rebuild his war-machine in pursuit of mad expansionist dreams? Or should action be taken now to disarm him?
— Amir Taheri is author of The Cauldron: The Middle East behind the headlines. Taheri is reachable through www.benadorassociates.com.