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Friedman: "The War Saddam Won"

US President Clinton, in one of his final interviews, called Thomas L.
Friedman his favorite writer on foreign policy.  I hope Clinton reads
Friedman's latest.

Friedman writes for the NYTimes, where -- despite his deserved reputation as
drum-beater* for the New World Order -- he has moments of editorial
independence.  His latest column qualifies, I think.  Nowhere else in the
Times will you read of the emerging Arab consensus against sanctions, or of
sanctions' true motive ('if you squeeze Iraq long enough the Iraqi people
will oust Saddam'), or of the perception of Iraqi opposition groups as
'corrupt outsiders'.

Caution: Friedman includes misleading data (1284 revenues don't excuse the
prior decade) and offensive verbiage (why is it the 'Arab street', but
elsewhere 'public opinion'?).  But this is the NYTimes, after all, and in
this context, Friedman's column is a step forward.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA

* Most infamously, Friedman wrote: "The hidden hand of the market will never
work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell


February 6, 2001
The War Saddam Won
DOHA, Qatar - The Bush team has a full-fledged public relations disaster on
its hands in the Arab world.

>From the smallest pistachio seller here on the shores of the Persian Gulf to
the highest Arab ministers, there is not only total opposition to any Bush
plans to tighten sanctions on Saddam Hussein until he is squeezed out of
power, but in fact virtually unanimous support for lifting sanctions

America has lost the propaganda war with Saddam. Period. And before the
sanctions regime collapses entirely, the U.S. needs to find a way to at
least salvage an international ban on all weapons sales to Iraq, with border
inspections, so that Saddam's military power is contained - and forget about
using endless economic sanctions to get rid of him. They are not

Especially after Ariel Sharon wins the Israeli election today. Judging from
many conversations here, the Arab street is poised to say to the Bush team:
"Let me get this straight. You want us to join America in imposing sanctions
on the Iraqi leader who smashed Kuwait, while America accepts the Israeli
leader who smashed Lebanon? Not a chance."

The U.S. effort to isolate Saddam has died of many causes. For one, Saddam
totally outfoxed Washington in the propaganda war. All you hear and read in
the media here is that the sanctions are starving the Iraqi people - which
is true. But the U.S. counter-arguments that by complying with U.N.
resolutions Saddam could get those sanctions lifted at any time are never
heard. Preoccupied with the peace process, no senior U.S. officials have
made their case in any sustained way here, and it shows.

You would never know from talking to people in the gulf that just a few
weeks ago Saddam Hussein's son Uday put forward a "working paper" to the
Iraqi National Assembly calling for a new emblem that showed Kuwait "as an
integral part of greater Iraq." You would never know that Iraq's deputy
prime minister, Tariq Aziz, recently declared that "Kuwait got what it
deserved." You would never know that during the period from June to December
2000, despite all the hunger among the Iraqi people, the U.N. reported that
Saddam bought only $4.2 billion worth of food and medicine for his people -
even though under the U.N. oil-for-food program he had $7.8 billion to

No, all you hear now are the sorts of arguments that Egypt's foreign
minister, Amr Moussa, made at the Davos Forum last week: "We can't expect
that the people of Iraq live under sanctions forever. . . . Since the war,
public opinion in the Arab world has moved 180 degrees." Many here would

Even if Colin Powell came to the gulf to make the right arguments, he would
have an uphill battle. For one thing, Washington has forgotten how different
Iraq looks from the Arab world. The leaders of the small Persian Gulf
sheikdoms are very good at calculating the balance of power. They know the
difference between the mirage and the oasis, and they know that as long as
Saddam is posing no immediate military threat to them, his army is still a
useful counterweight to their more dangerous historic enemy - Iran.

At the same time, on the Arab street the notion that at least one Arab
country, Iraq, has weapons of mass destruction that can balance Israel's is
very popular. Moreover, the daily Arab TV diet of pictures of the
Palestinian uprising and the Israeli retaliations has produced a gut desire
on the Arab street to poke a finger in America's eye.

Finally, the Arab street no longer accepts the logic of sanctions - that if
you squeeze Iraq long enough the Iraqi people will oust Saddam. It is widely
felt that Arab leaders can never be ousted by the "people." It never happens
in this neighborhood. As one Qatari intellectual said to me: "If your
sanctions on Castro have not worked for 40 years to get rid of him, and he
is right next to you, why do you believe that they will work to get rid of
Saddam?" For the most part, the Iraqi opposition groups (funded by the U.S.)
are viewed as corrupt outsiders who would be rejected by the Iraqi body
politic in the unlikely event they ever did oust Saddam. 

Bottom line: If Colin Powell tries really hard, launches a real P.R.
campaign against Saddam, he might be able to hold together the sanctions
long enough to get them lifted in an orderly way and replaced by a U.N. ban
on all military sales to Iraq. If you think otherwise, well, I have some
lakefront property on the Saudi-Qatari border I'd like to sell you. 

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