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POLICY: THINKING BEYOND SMART SANCTIONS
POLICYWATCH, No. 547
31 July 2001
August 2, 2001,
marks eleven years since Saddam Husayn invaded Kuwait. Given Washington's
unsuccessful effort to win UN Security Council approval for a reformed
sanctions regime, the Bush administration must now reconsider the options
for Iraq policy.
Less weight in the sanctions basket should mean more weight in the other two, namely, military deterrence and regime change. Without reinforced actions on those two fronts, those who want to undermine the sanctions regime could feel emboldened, and sanctions could erode even more than they already have.
Numerous steps could be taken to revitalize the regime-change option. One-tenth of Iraq is already under the control of the opposition, specifically, the two Kurdish parties which have run that region for a decade. They would be more willing to see challenges to Saddam launched from their territory if they were given a U.S. pledge to protect them against Iraqi tank attacks, that is, a "no-drive" zone in the north similar to the one in the south authorized by the UN but rarely enforced by the United States. If provided financial and material support, various opposition groups could launch an active information campaign, including radio and television stations that would reach most Iraqis from the Kurdish-controlled north or clandestine units in surrounding countries. The U.S. government could end its restrictions on the opposition's use of funds inside Iraq--restrictions that come from an interpretation of the sanctions on Iraq that at best is overly legalistic and at worst is an effort to undermine support for the opposition. The Bush administration could appoint a coordinator of U.S. aid to the opposition, preferably someone at the assistant secretary level backed up by a staff of senior officials from the State Department, CIA, the Defense Department, and the uniformed military (the State Department has left vacant a lower- level position of liason to the opposition). The administration could pick up on expressions of interest in contacts by the main Shi'i opposition group, the Tehran-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
The military deterrence
basket also needs reinforcing. The U.S. military has been interested in
reconfiguring no-fly-zone enforcement to reduce risk to U.S. planes. Changes
should be accomplished in such a way that Middle Easterners understand
them to be tactical, rather than a reduction in U.S. commitment (perceptions
that the U.S. resolve is weakening are the biggest threat to U.S. interests).
For instance, the U.S. military's rules of engagement could be changed
to state that when Iraq fires at U.S. planes--as it does frequently, to
little effect-- assets valuable to the Iraqi regime will be destroyed,
such as secret police and Ba'ath Party buildings full of Saddam's lackeys,
rather than only anti-aircraft installations.
Indeed, the usual
formula about Iraq policy being linked to the Middle East peace process
has the flow of causality backward. The best opportunities for Arab- Israeli
peace come when those like Saddam, who champion the use of force, have
been soundly repulsed and when the strength and will of the United States
and its allies is unquestioned. When the overall strategic situation in
the Middle East is favorable to the United States and its allies, Israel
feels most comfortable taking risks for peace, as it did with the Declaration
of Principles in 1993; those who resist compromise have to bend, as did
Syrian president Hafez al-Asad in finally agreeing to negotiations with
Israel at Madrid in 1991. Were the United States to make a breakthrough
against Saddam, the reverberations would be felt throughout the Arab-Israeli
arena: radicals would lose a friend and financial backer, confrontation
with the United States and its allies would look more risky, and the roles
of the UN and Europe would appear less consequential.
Against this backdrop,
some may conclude that Iraq is not the most urgent issue for U.S. foreign
policy nor the most burning problem in the Middle East. But given the
connection to energy policy, WMD, U.S. military deployment overseas, and
threats to local allies, Iraq may yet be the most important strategic
challenge to U.S. interests in the region. The time to deal with a problem
is before it bursts into flame. And the timing is right for the Bush administration
to push ahead on Iraq: the staff who would work on supporting the opposition
from the Defense Department and National Security Council are in place,
making them better able to overcome entrenched resistance which has buried
past regime-change initiatives.
As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated. Click here for more information.
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