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[casi] FW: The Region Column for Jan 7, 2003: 1991/2003 Wars on Iraq

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-----Original Message-----
From: Barry Rubin []
Sent: Monday, January 06, 2003 10:19 AM
Subject: The Region Column for Jan 7, 2003: 1991/2003 Wars on Iraq

The Region
By Barry Rubin
        The year is 2003, or is it? Precisely a dozen years ago, the
United States was heading toward war with Iraq heading. Consider what
many said back then and you decide how much has changed.
        In 1990, Iraq had invaded and annexed Kuwait, its weak and
inoffensive neighbor. The United States, under a president named Bush,
organized an international coalition to drive back an Iraqi leader named
Saddam Hussein. Yet even under these relatively optimal conditions, his
policy faced very strong opposition at home and internationally.
        Many even predicted that Bush would be unable to get
congressional backing for his campaign. New York Times columnist Tom
Wicker proclaimed, "Bush stands warned--Congress is unlikely to support
a war." Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell, cautioned, "There has
been no clear rationale, no convincing explanation for shifting American
policy from one of sanctions to one of war." The risks, included high
casualties, "billions of dollars spent, a greatly disrupted oil supply
and oil price increases, a war possibly widened to Israel, Turkey or
other allies, the possible long-term American occupation of Iraq,
increased instability in the Persian Gulf region, long-lasting Arab
enmity against the United States, a possible return to isolationism at
        "Within six months," said Senator Ernest Hollings, a Democrat
from South Carolina, "every fundamentalist mullah, every Arab
nationalist, will say, `the United States came here and invaded this
Third World country for oil....' And, face it, they will be speaking the
        In the words of Judith Kipper, a Brookings Institution fellow
who was American television's favorite Middle East expert, "We will be
seen as the big bullies, no matter how many Arabs we have around us."
Professor Michael Hudson of Georgetown University declared, Saddam was
"going over the heads of the Arab leaders and appealing directly to the
people. And he seems to be having some success." Professor L. Carl Brown
of Princeton, who had earlier opined that Europe was replacing the
United States as the area's chief power, warned, "A crushing military
defeat of Saddam Hussein will convert the bully of Baghdad into a
        The terrorist factor, like the innate Arab support for Saddam,
was overestimated. Representative Lee Hamilton, a Democrat from Indiana,
considered the most knowledgeable member of Congress on the Middle East,
said, "If war comes, it will be difficult to imagine where Americans
will be safe in the Middle East for some time to come." Senator John
Kerry, A Democrat from Massachusetts, former Defense Secretary James
Schlesinger, the columnists Evans and Novak, and many others agreed that
much of the region would rise up in Saddam's support. They all neglected
the level of radicalism, terrorism, and anti-American activity that
would accompany Saddam's achieving hegemony in the entire Persian Gulf.
        The critics also doubted that the U.S.-led coalition would
survive. Hamilton said a few days before the war began, "Support for the
United States from coalition partners will be questionable in the case
of hostilities." War, he added, would "split the coalition; estrange us
from our closest allies; make us the object of Arab hostility; endanger
friendly governments in the region; and not be easy to end, once
started." Ball claimed, "The coalition would almost fall apart
overnight" and the United States would be left "with not a single friend
except Israel" in the region.
        Iraq's biggest boosters in earlier days were now among the most
ardent defeatists about America's chances. The columnists Evans and
Novak published assertions that almost all Arab leaders agreed that the
death of a single Iraqi soldier would make them desert the coalition.
They insisted that Iraq's conquest of Kuwait, "cannot now be undone from
outside," proclaimed that Syria and Iran would do nothing against
Saddam, and virtually rejoiced in claiming that Bush's policy was losing
domestic and international support. Today, Novak falsely claims the new
war on Iraq is an Israeli idea, ignoring both the true course of events
and widespread doubt in Israel about the U.S. policy.
        Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, originator
of the idea that the United States could make Iraq an ally in the 1970s,
warned in 1991 that an attack would lead to a split with European
allies, Arab anti-American hostility, financial disaster, and the loss
of any gains from the U.S. victory in the Cold War. He forecast "a
global wave of sympathy for Iraq" and reflected the most extreme Arab
propaganda in claiming that Israel might "take advantage of an expanded
war to effect the expulsion of all Palestinians" from the West Bank."
Today, about 1000 American academics-including many Middle East
"experts" have made a similarly slanderous claim with absolutely no
        Back in 1991, the coalition's Arab members never wavered,
expecting the Americans to hand them a quick, total victory. Kuwait and
Saudi Arabia sought vengeance and vindication, knowing that only
Saddam's defeat could preserve their sovereignty. Iran and Syria also
wanted Iraq weakened and Saddam eliminated as a rival all the more
threatening if he made himself master of Kuwait and victor over America.
        After Bush obtained congressional support to go to war, Senator
Joseph Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, warned the president on the
Senate floor, "The Senate and the nation are divided on this issue. You
have no mandate for war." Senator Ted Kennedy, a Democrat from
Massachusetts, added in his speech, "There is still time to save the
president from himself--and save thousands of American soldiers in the
Persian Gulf from dying in the desert in a war whose cruelty will be
exceeded only by the lack of any rational necessity for waging it." If
these powerful Americans inveighed against war, why should Saddam expect
the United States to fight?
        Yet this was a serious miscalculation based on Saddam's
ignorance of America as well as his way of thinking. Bush had both the
motive and the ability to keep his word and Iraq ignored all the danger
signs: the U.S. troop build-up, the public scheduling of a coalition
attack for January, Soviet warnings that it would support the use of
force, more troops sent by Egypt and Syria, the coalition's continued
solidity, and a lack of sanctions-busting activity. Bush had the
coalition's green light and the American people's strong support.
        In one sense, however, Saddam was totally correct. American
eagerness to bring U.S. troops home and retreat from foreign
responsibility had made it fumble in the political settlement after
military victories in two world wars. The Vietnam war and Iran hostage
crisis became political disasters because, win or lose, they could not
be concluded fast enough. Saddam understood that the United States could
not fight a war if it could not win fast, keep casualties low, and get
out quickly. Contrary to Saddam's expectations, Bush was able to fulfill
these conditions in defeating Iraq. But the same need to keep the war
short, losses low, and bring the troops home soon also meant that the
United States lacked the will power and staying power to bring down the
Iraqi dictator.
        Now we are facing round two: to achieve with much greater
difficulty what might have been more easily done back in 1991. But have
illusions: in all the same circles it was no more popular then. And
whether or not Bush should attack Iraq now, it is quite clear that those
who opposed strong action a decade ago have a lot of responsibility for
the current situation.

Barry Rubin is director of the GLORIA Center, Interdisciplinary
University. His latest books are The Tragedy of the Middle East
(Cambridge), Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East (Oxford), and
Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics (Palgrave).

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