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The Tyrant Who Refuses to Die : Bush haunted by day he let Hussein get away

August 02, 1992|George W. Ball | George W. Ball, undersecretary of state from 1961-66, is the author of "The Passionate Attachment" (Norton), about U.S.-Israeli relations

PRINCETON, N.J. — Those familiar with the Allies' troubles in getting the Germans to do what they were told in the years after the World War I might well have anticipated what would happen if Saddam Hussein survived. Begin ning with his unauthorized use of gunships to suppress the rebellions after the Gulf War, the Iraqi dictator has progressively probed the limits of the U.N.'s willingness to enforce its resolutions to contain him--and he is prepared to do so again and again.

In the crisis just ended, Hussein finally gave way to U.N. inspection of documents, reportedly housed in the Ministry of Agriculture, related to his efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, but only after he had delayed the inspectors for at least 24 days. The delay enabled him to remove any potentially incriminating materials from the building. Indeed, the U.N. inspectors found nothing.

Hussein also gained the right to exclude any citizen of a Gulf War coalition member from future search teams. The experience shows that he need no longer fear the U.N.'s insistence on surprise inspections, which, as experience has demonstrated, is indispensable if the present arms-control inspection regime is to have any meaning.

Why the Administration let Baghdad extend the freedom of movement of its gunships into southern Iraq last April is a total mystery. This ill-advised concession will allow the Iraqi regime to carry out its plans to drive the Shiite marsh people out of their homes, thereby consolidating Baghdad's control in the south. Even more destructive actions will follow unless there is a firm agreement not to make any further concessions to the intransigent Iraqi regime.

During the course of the Gulf War, George Bush called Hussein a "Hitler." No doubt that was largely wartime hyperbole, but the comparison erred principally in degree, not in kind. The Iraqi dictator has committed genocide. He attacked Iran, annexed Kuwait, drove the Kurds into exile and harassed the Shiites. He also initiated a program for building weapons of mass destruction that grew ever more alarming as its full dimensions were progressively exposed.

If Hussein is a second Hitler, the President, in pursuing the war, might well have followed the lesson learned by the Allies in 1945. Not only should have Iraqi forces been expelled from Kuwait, but their fighting power should have been destroyed and Iraq occupied. Their criminal government should have been deposed, its adherents purged from major positions in public and private life and its leaders tried as war criminals.

But Bush faced troubling obstacles, some of which were of his own making. The Gulf War coalition might succumb to internal dissension and fall apart before the full task was completed. The American public might grow weary of additional fighting as sophisticated weapons failed to do the job, casualties increased and the domestic economy sank deeper into recession.

But if America rejected an occupation, what could it do? Covert action was urged by its usual proponents, but an open democracy, like America's, cannot handle that sort of business very effectively. With its army and government destroyed, moreover, Iraq would likely become a cauldron of ethnic conflict and even splinter into three separate countries--a Kurdistan in the north, a Sunni Arab state encircling Baghdad and a Shiite nation in the south. Creating a Kurdish state would invite occupation by Turkey, Iran and Syria, all of which have large, disaffected Kurdish populations, while Shiite Iran would be tempted to take over a new nation of Shiite people over whom it now enjoys strong influence. For these reasons, the United States has supported the U.N. resolution calling for maintenance of Iraq's unity.

In view of the difficulty of maintaining the present economic sanctions and the unity of the coalition that Bush assembled with so much difficulty, one can clearly predict that increasing force will be required to keep Hussein on his present short leash. The Iraqi dictator blames all his nation's troubles on the United States and the United Nations, which, by their trade embargo, are, he asserts, trying to starve the people into submission. Hitler, too, nurtured the German sense of grievance regarding the "diktat" of Versailles.

Moreover--and this may be of controlling parochial importance in an election year--the fact that such actions have proved necessary will certainly be construed as a confession that, in 1990, the Administration made a mistake in not overthrowing the Ba'athist regime, when the coalition forces were already mobilized and on the spot.

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