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Security Council's Choice is Sure Sign of End of 'Containment'

Center for Security Policy

27 January 2000


In a hugely disappointing decision yesterday to fill a senior UN bureaucratic post, the Security Council spoke volumes about its depleted appetite for further confrontations with -- to say nothing of additional efforts to punish -- Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The Security Council formally endorsed Secretary General Kofi Annan's recommendation to appoint Hans Blix. a Swedish diplomat with a checkered record, to become the first head of the successor to the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM).

Blix was the lowest-common-denominator choice for the job after Russia, China and France vetoed his much more conscientious compatriot, Rolf Ekeus. He is a natural choice to run the sort of Potemkin inspection operation that those three countries clearly have in mind for their once-and-future client, Iraq. Given Blix's dismal sixteen-year performance as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- an organization that had an uncanny track-record during his tenure of not finding evidence of nuclear weapons activities prohibited by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Thus not only Iraq, but Iran, North Korea, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa were among the nations that succeeded in largely concealing indigenous or collaborative nuclear weapons programs from Blix's IAEA.

Unfortunately, as the following, recently published editorials make clear, the Blix appointment is only the latest in a litany of serious mistakes made by the Clinton-Gore Administration with respect to Iraq. If not immediately reversed, these mistakes will have the effect of empowering and emboldening Saddam -- and set the stage for serious grief for the United States and its regional allies down the road.

Wall Street Journal, 20 January 2000

Saddam Is Reversing Gulf War Defeat

By Andrew J. Bacevich

The wrangling between Secretary General Kofi Annan and members of the United Nations Security Council over the appointment of someone to head the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission may yet result in the revival of some attenuated form of weapons inspections in Iraq. If it does, spokesmen for the Clinton administration will no doubt proclaim this yet another triumph of American statecraft. Doing so just might distract Americans from the real story--namely, how during his seven years of jousting with President Clinton, Saddam Hussein has thwarted the U.S. at every turn. The only question is whether to credit the outcome to Iraqi cunning or to unvarnished American ineptitude.

U.S. efforts to subvert the Iraqi dictator's hold on power from within have gone precisely nowhere. In 1996, Saddam uncovered and proceeded to smash CIA operations based in northern Iraq aimed at organizing a domestic opposition. Since that debacle--and despite congressional prodding in the form of the Iraq Liberation Act--administration efforts to galvanize the Iraqi opposition have been largely confined to hosting taxpayer-supported conferences in pricey midtown Manhattan hotels.

Administration expectations that international sanctions might put the squeeze on Saddam have likewise produced little. Since 1993, the once robust coalition built by George Bush has all but evaporated. Today erstwhile American partners jockey for position to cut the best possible deal with Iraq at the first available opportunity. Iraqi petroleum exports under the guise of food-for-oil have now reached a post-Desert Storm high, with only the most na´ve believing that the proceeds serve exclusively humanitarian purposes.

Most significantly, the administration has frittered away America's dominant position in the Persian Gulf through its cavalier expenditure of U.S. military power. When, in the fall of 1998, Saddam sent U.N. weapons inspectors packing, President Clinton subjected Baghdad to a modest four-day air campaign. Advertised as a powerful setback to Saddam's efforts to rebuild his military machine, Operation Desert Fox amounted to little more than a pyrotechnic display that covered a stinging diplomatic defeat for the U.S.

In the 13 months since, all but unnoticed by the American public, the U.S. has continued to bomb Iraq, unloading some 2,000 missiles and precision-guided bombs against several hundred targets scattered throughout the Iraqi outback. The targets demolished with impressive skill by American aviators are devoid of larger military significance. The likelihood that this haphazard campaign will produce a politically meaningful result approaches zero. Indeed, it is not at all clear that the campaign has an identifiable political purpose.

Nominally, the administration remains committed to removing Saddam from power. In reality, the lack of resolve shown in the face of Iraqi defiance and the frivolousness of American military action tell a different story, namely that the U.S. is learning to accommodate itself to a Persian Gulf that includes Saddam Hussein. Other nations in the region, or with interests there, respond accordingly.

Saddam himself can hardly fail to appreciate that events are heading in his direction. Back in January 1993, when Mr. Clinton became president, observers noted the irony that the victor in the Gulf War had been ousted from power while the loser had managed to survive. Now it seems all but certain that Saddam will outlast a second American president as well.

Whereas Saddam emerged from his confrontation with Mr. Bush weakened and vulnerable, after eight years of Mr. Clinton his position grows stronger by the day. As the end of Bill Clinton's two terms in office approaches, Saddam Hussein can take justifiable satisfaction at having made significant progress toward his ultimate objective: reversing the results of the Persian Gulf War.

Andrew J. Bacevich is director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University.

Jerusalem Post Editorial, 23 January 2000

Iraq Quietly Consolidates

A five-member team from the International Atomic Energy Agency has arrived in Iraq, but it would be an illusion to think that close control over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction is being reinstated.

The team, led by Ahmed Abuzahra of Egypt, is the first visit to Iraq by monitors from the Vienna-based IAEA since UN weapons inspectors left the country in late 1998, never to return. The new inspection is not connected to those mandated by the UN after Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War - it is a routine inventory check for nuclear material and is part of the monitoring procedures required of all signatories to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

The issue of restoring the regime of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission remains mired in a dispute between Secretary- General Kofi Annan and members of the Security Council over who should head it. Russia, China, and France joined in successful ignominious agreement to reject Rolf Ekeus, who was Annan's choice for the job. Much mockery was spent on Saddam's pompous claims to have won the Gulf War in 1991, but it is by no means clear that the murderous dictator will not have the last laugh on the issue.

He has held on to power, rebuilt his palaces, and restocked his coffers, and he has steadily whittled away the power and credibility of both the UN and the US. Weathering the ineffective strikes on radar units that paint allied aircraft in the designated no-fly zones, Saddam has reimposed his will on the outside world just by being cantankerous and devious. He has been aided magnificently by the incompetent handling of the Iraq desk in Washington and by misguided states scrabbling to regain commercial influence in Iraq at any cost.

It is easy to forget that while the world public and the media may have grown bored with the tedium of stories from Iraq, Saddam has been quietly but relentless consolidating his power and rebuilding his strength, out of the limelight. It will be no surprise if the Middle East and the world gets some other nasty surprise from Iraq, which it should have been expecting but wasn't.

What is as puzzling as it is worrying is the apparent invisibility of any Washington policy on Iraq -- or indeed any attempt to implement whatever shreds of policy ever existed. Yet, in the last 12 months, the Americans have managed to drop more than 2,000 bombs and missiles on Iraq in those no-fly zone confrontations. The best word so far used to describe this military campaign is "haphazard," and it would defy the skills of any military analyst to come up with a coherent explanation of what it is all about.

There have been two main indicators that the failed Western policy to contain Saddam must be blamed on American incompetence rather than Iraqi cunning. The first was the disastrous CIA operation in Kurdish northern Iraq in 1996, which Saddam routed. The second has been the failure to implement Congress's Iraq Liberation Act - which was supposed to fund the overthrow of the dictator by native opposition groups.

President Bill Clinton signed the 1998 act which was supposed to invest $97 million in this project. Apparently only $20,000 has been disbursed to the opposition groups - enough to buy some basic office supplies. The London office of the Iraqi National Congress, the main democratic opposition group, shut down at the end of last year. All this dithering and incompetence has enabled Saddam to replace his bombast after the Gulf War with a credible claim to have rolled back allied achievements then. If anyone still thinks Saddam will be content just with that, they will be deluding themselves


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