Middle East Scenarios
Jude Wanniski
November 15, 1990


My early apprehension about sending troops to Saudi Arabia has now been completely removed. The rest of the Arab world has closed ranks with the coalition, even to the point of committing itself to military action if need be. And the moral authority is completely with the U.S. coalition, as evidenced by the support of the United Nations, which is also on the verge of endorsing military action to deal with Saddam Hussein. The remaining question I had turned on the jurisdiction issue: Did the facts surrounding the August 2 Iraq invasion of Kuwait support the contention that this was a regional matter, as Iraq has since insisted? Or did the facts support the idea that this was a global matter, requiring U.S. leadership to expel Iraq, including the use of force, if necessary.

The jurisdiction issue was settled in my mind this week in Washington, with a briefing that persuaded me Saddam Hussein was indeed about to launch an invasion of Saudi Arabia after swallowing Kuwait. The proof is so persuasive that it is now easy to understand why the Saudis permitted U.S. troops in Islam's holy land. To me, it is now clear that war is necessary if Hussein in January or February does not clear out of Kuwait. Reducing the jurisdiction issue to the concept of the global village, it is clear that if bandits occupy and loot a neighborhood and then threaten to take another, and the local police are not sufficient to stop the menace, it is up to the leader of the global village to assemble the force necessary to do the job. There is no longer a question of negotiating with Saddam Hussein once we are persuaded he is not only dangerous, but also expansionist. Saddam's economic and territorial claims on Kuwait become irrelevant when we are persuaded Saudi Arabia was next on his hit list.

John F. Burns of The New York Times, the best foreign correspondent in the American press corps, has reported from Baghdad that a high official in the Iraqi government told him in a secret meeting that Saddam will exit Kuwait at the moment he knows for sure that President Bush is ready and willing to strike. One of the things that will persuade him that this will happen is to sense that the military strategy being planned by the U.S. command will not involve a long war with high U.S. casualties. The massive U.S. expeditionary force is being put in place to demonstrate U.S. resolve and impatience, not to signal plans for a ground offensive. If attempts fail by the other Arab nations to get Saddam out of Kuwait without war, sometime after the first of the year, he will get a definite ultimatum. At that point he will know that unless he does so, the aerial might assembled in the region will hammer at him, and that he will not stand a chance of maintaining air cover for his tank force. U.S. and allied air power would also take out the nuclear, chemical and biological installations in Iraq.

The U.S. ground forces would not move across the Kuwait border to engage the Iraqi army but would observe what the Iraqi army does as its field commanders see what is happening to their air cover. Even if movement of the Iraq army proceeds south toward the U.S. expeditionary force, it would first meet the Arab forces assembled in Saudi Arabia between the Iraq army and the U.S. forces. The Arab leaders are determined to take the highest proportion of casualties in any ground engagement with Iraq, to demonstrate to their own people how serious they take their responsibility to police the bandit Saddam, as well as to limit the bloodletting between Arabs and Americans. This fact, too, is being understood by the Iraqi military commanders, and is another reason why they surely are advising Saddam that President Bush holds the trump cards and why the report of John Burns makes so much sense.

If Saddam chooses to allow hostilities to proceed by ignoring the U.S. ultimatum, there is the possibility that one of his responses would be an air attack on Israel, to muck things up by pulling Israel into the war and thus inviting division in the Arab world. This, at least, is the view of former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, who believes it would happen as part of a war scenario. Ms. Kirkpatrick, by the way, also had her doubts removed about U.S. military action when she learned of the Iraqi preparations for an invasion of Saudi Arabia. She seems confident that in this scenario Israel would be able to take care of herself and Saddam would not succeed in dividing the Arab world.

If Saddam leaves Kuwait upon deliverance of an ultimatum, the world will then have to present him with a bill for the considerable damage his banditry has done to Kuwait, as well as the costs of the police action. The plan, I'm told by Arab sources, is to enable Saddam, or whoever heads the Iraqi government at that point (if Saddam has been liquidated), to pay its bill by acceding to demands that it dismantle the nuclear, bio and chemical installations that otherwise constitute a continuing threat to the region.

In this most positive scenario, no blood is spilled, and the entire geopolitical map of the Middle East is altered significantly. Saudi Arabia and the other moderate Arab states then owe so much to the United States for its leadership and commitment that they actively work to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli problem. This, again, I'm getting from good Arab sources.

I continue to believe that Jim Baker is missing a bet by not having the coalition identify Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as its diplomatic voice. As it is, several voices are being raised week in and week out with one half-baked initiative after another, the latest being the Moroccan call for an Arab summit which Mubarak quickly saw as a distraction that Saddam could play upon to divide the coalition. With Mubarak deputized, Saddam would have to face the leading moderate non-monarch Arab in the region, one he has betrayed in the recent past, who is not about to be taken for a ride again. The move would neaten up the diplomatic scene between now and January, as we approach time for an ultimatum.

The problem President Bush has at the moment is with the Congress, which reflects an ambivalence about military action with the American people. It's already clear that Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell is going to try to roll Secretary of State Jim Baker the way he did Richard Darman. He will do so by closing off options to the President one at a time, in the name of the U.S. Constitution. Baker made a serious mistake this week by asserting that U.S. "jobs" are at stake in the Middle East. If that's what it's all about, Saddam Hussein need never fear military action from the expeditionary force. The American public will side with George Mitchell.

Where Darman was successful in keeping the President off the TV tube to sell his growth initiative, thereby playing into Mitchell's hands, Baker has to get the President on television in a prime-time fireside chat, to talk about the global village and the bandits in the neighborhood, their plans to expand, their developing nuclear and biological potential, and our political obligation and moral authority to take the lead in expelling and disarming them. If he can do it effectively, and I have no reason to doubt he can, he will dramatically increase the likelihood that Saddam will throw in the towel, or his generals will throw it in for him.