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In Defense of Saddam Hussein

In a remarkably astute news analysis in Monday's New York Times, R.W. Apple, Jr., points out that because Saddam Hussein was "permanently demonized in the West by the Persian Gulf war," his movement of troops into northern Iraq would allow President Clinton to bomb Iraqi troops — even though Saddam "is in a far more credible position than he was when he sent his army racing into Kuwait, an independent country, or even when he stormed into northern Iraq five years ago to put down a rebellion." And so Clinton has, we learned this morning, as B-52s rained down iron bombs and cruise missiles on the Iraqi troops. Apple, who is among a handful of senior wise men in the Washington press corps, noted that '"Purely in terms of domestic politics, the call is a no-brainer." The column goes on to make every argument on why it is not in the national interest to brainlessly "slap Iraq." It is in fact the most shocking and irresponsible use of force by President Clinton since the earliest days of his administration, when his agents destroyed the compound outside Waco. It was obviously done purely for presidential political advantage — to pre-empt potential criticism from Bob Dole for failing to punish Saddam for the incursion. We thought Waco had taught this President something about the unintended consequences of the ill-considered use of force. It not only incinerated the children at Waco it was supposed to save from the demonized Branch Davidians, it also directly led to the terrorist act that blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City. Where will this irresponsible and ill-considered use of force on such a grand scale lead?

The Wall Street Journal, by contrast, is no help at all. Its editorial this morning, "The Mess in Iraq," simply repeats its blame of President Bush for not incinerating Saddam Hussein and his army instead of merely kicking them out of Kuwait — which was the mission. The editorial is a brainless critique of the Clinton administration for its "lack of interest in the area," suggesting now the President should have noticed that it was in our critical national interest to relieve the Kurdish differences of opinion that brought us to this pretty pass. If you had not heard, folks, it was the Kurdish faction the WS Journal has supported which begged Baghdad to send troops to put down the rebellion of the Kurdish faction backed by Iran. Indeed, the faction asking Saddam's help is the duly constituted regional government in political control of the "No-fly safety zone" which the United States created out of thin air in northern Iraq.

Yes, thin air. The United Nations did not resolve to create a "No-fly safety zone." It merely passed a resolution urging Saddam to stop repressing the Kurds. Why was Baghdad "slaughtering the Kurds," who are citizens of Iraq? It was because President Bush had urged the Kurds to rise up and overthrow Saddam and when they did, the Islamic equivalent of the Bay of Pigs ensued. Why did Bush urge the uprising that led to the slaughtering of the Kurds? It was a consolation prize to those who wanted General Schwartzkopf to slaughter Saddam's Republican Guard in what General Colin Powell referred to as a "turkey shoot." The Cold Warriors have never forgiven General Powell for talking President Bush out of sending Stormin' Norman into Baghdad. The best they can do now is argue that if only he had gone in, and we had taken over Iraq, the Kurds we incited to rebellion would not now be at each other's throats because the economy is in such terrible shape in the "No-fly safety zone."

And just why is the economy in such bad shape? It is because five years after the Gulf War, the United States continues to block the sale of Iraqi oil on the world market. Why? Because we are very angry with Saddam for putting down the Kurdish rebellion we incited, not because he has failed to meet the demands of the UN that he not acquire weapons of mass destruction. All such demands have been met, to the point of embarrassment at the UN and most of the governments of Europe. The UN has been on the verge of lifting the embargo to permit a small amount of oil to be sold for humanitarian purposes. In his first response — taking the counsel of hard-liner Sen. John McCain [R-AZ] instead of asking the opinion of Colin Powell — Bob Dole at first criticized the President for going along with the idea of lifting the embargo. The OPEC oil nations have supported the embargo in order to recapture the costs of the Gulf War through the higher oil prices that result. The U.S. oil industry is not unhappy with the embargo.

Why would Saddam send troops to the Kurdish enclave now, knowing it would jeopardize the easing of the embargo? The WSJournal, which represents the views of the military-industrial complex, is truly offended: "Iraq's disregard for American leadership in the region is underscored by the fact that Saddam invaded the Kurdish region even though he was desperately counting on the United Nations to allow the sale of $2 billion worth of oil in exchange for food." How could he do such a thing?? For starters, he is the Iraqi head of state, just as President Clinton is the head of state in these parts. If the Governor of New Jersey asked for federal troops to put down an armed rebellion against Trenton, Mr. Clinton would presumably do so. Iraq did not invade Iraq. It did not even fly into the no-fly zone. It sent in troops, at the request of the regional government, and we are at least glad to see that Sen. John Warner [R-VA] and Rep. Lee Hamilton [D-IN] pointed out on the Sunday talk shows that Saddam had not violated anything. Senator Warner went as far as to say he did not think it a good idea to drop bombs on anyone.

We are reminded that in his book on the Clinton administration, Bob Woodward noted with dismay how Bill Clinton made foreign policy in the Oval Office the way fraternity boys would talk war and peace around a keg of beer. It was partly this sense of haplessness that led Colin Powell to beg off an invitation to succeed Warren Christopher as Secretary of State — that and a sense he was merely being taken out of play in presidential politics. We must remember that the Bush administration did not have clean hands in the events that led to the Gulf War. It was his Ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie, who told Saddam that the United States would not much mind if he exercised Iraq's claims on the oil fields of northern Kuwait. When Saddam grabbed the oil fields, nobody else in the neighborhood got excited, including Saudi Arabia, until President Bush decided to tell Saddam that April Glaspie didn't mean it, and he had to give up Iraq's claims. If you put yourself in the shoes of this permanently demonized Saddam Hussein, you might understand why he might think there is a permanent fraternity party underway in the Oval Office.

What now? One would hope that Mr. Dole has gotten around to talking to General Powell, whom he would like to be Secretary of State in his administration. We were encouraged to see him last night say that at this point military action would be premature, but once Clinton pulled the trigger Dole was indeed pushing even harder for decisive action — and Kemp followed suit. It would be nice if Dole at least called Robert Ellsworth, the former Kansas congressman and NATO ambassador who was best man at the wedding of Bob and Liddy. Mr. Ellsworth, who does not shoot from the hip, is a fan of Jack Kemp, and in fact chaired the vice presidential search committee for Mr. Dole. He is also a fan of General Powell. It is absolutely essential that no further damage be done in Iraq, which means Mr. Dole should not goad the President into an escalation, as McCain and Senator Richard Lugar, another friend of Dole, have already been doing. Fm reminded of Casey Stengel, watching his Mets lose another with a series of dropped fly balls and wild throws: "Can't anyone here play this game?"