AMMAN, Jordan — This nation defended Saddam Hussein after his 1990 invasion of Kuwait and, as a result, paid a bitter price when rich Gulf Arab states severed economic aid and expelled thousands of Jordanian workers en masse. After Hussein's defeat in the Persian Gulf War, Jordan has spent the years since shifting gears, falling in with the U.S. policy to pressure and contain the Iraqi dictator.
Now some Jordanians are asking: Are we on the losing side again?
In an interview this week in his palace garden, the crown prince of Jordan was not prepared to go that far. But he signaled that Jordan wants a new approach to Iraq in the wake of the renewed confrontation between Washington and Baghdad.
With Saddam Hussein widely believed to have trumped the U.S. with a largely successful incursion into Iraq's Kurdish north--and to have emerged largely unscathed from the latest round of American cruise missile strikes--Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan suggested that a regional diplomatic strategy be adopted to prod Iraq toward democracy and stability.
"There should be an intensification of consultation with regional partners" by the U.S. as to its further plans concerning Iraq, said Hassan, the younger brother of Jordan's King Hussein.
In the interview Thursday, Hassan argued that the economic sanctions in place since the 1991 Gulf War have hurt only ordinary Iraqis. He argued that the U.S. military strikes also have done little but transform Saddam Hussein into a hero in Arab eyes.
This creates problems for moderate Arab regimes such as Jordan, he said, adding: "We are an open society, and people do express views very clearly on their concern that Arab identity is threatened. There is a basic concern about the future: How long does this confrontation . . . continue?"
Arabs, Hassan said, will not tolerate indefinitely the international sanctions against Baghdad, especially when confronted with U.N. statistics showing that thousands of Iraqi children have died of malnutrition since the punitive measures were imposed against the Iraqi regime.
"The Iraqi people need to be given a light at the end of the tunnel, and the region needs to be given a light at the end of the tunnel," Hassan said.
This could happen if the United States took Arab views into account and if the countries of the region engaged with the Iraqi government in the diplomacy needed to try to make the Baghdad regime less repressive and more democratic, he added.
That such a message came from Jordan's crown prince underscores how even the United States' best friends in the region believe that Washington's Iraq policy has failed and needs to be reevaluated.
Jordan, analysts note, is particularly vulnerable to events in Iraq.
It is a small, bordering country and depends on Iraqi oil and trade. Some Jordanians believe that their country was sold a bill of goods by the United States and went too far out on a limb in its relations with Baghdad in the last year because it accepted U.S. assurances that Saddam Hussein was about to be overthrown.
King Hussein gave sanctuary to Saddam Hussein's two sons-in-law when they defected. Amman permitted U.S. jets to be based in Jordan. The Jordanians allowed overflights of Iraqi territory from Jordan. Jordan let a CIA-backed Iraqi opposition group set up shop in the capital. Jordan reduced its profitable trade with Iraq, costing thousands of Jordanians jobs.
Now, many Jordanians fear Saddam Hussein will take economic--and maybe even military--vengeance on Jordan.
As for Hassan, he criticized the recent U.S. attacks on Iraq for having dubious legal justification and for fueling propaganda efforts by extremists in the Arab world who threaten the stability of countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
"It is very difficult to talk about political centrism when the hero status of Saddam is promoted as a result of direct action of this kind," he said.
The prince said that there should be a Mideast group comparable to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe--an organization where countries of divergent political views could still come together and negotiate issues such as arms control and human rights.