Tracking Number:  179956

Title:  (Reprinted by permission. Use, credit as indicated) (04/11/91)

Date:  19910411


04/11/91 (Reprinted by permission. Use, credit as indicated)


(The author is director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Permission has been obtained for republication and translation by USIS and local press abroad. The text must be reprinted in its entirety.

On title page, credit author and carry: Reprinted by permission of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, (c) 1991 Dow Jones and Co., Inc. All rights reserved.)

The slaughter in Iraq of Shiites and Kurds sickens me, but I've reluctantly concluded that President Bush is basically right not to intervene on their behalf.

It's obvious why we should want to help the Kurds. Not only could the U.S. military easily stop the massacre of civilians, but Mr. Bush has on several occasions encouraged the Iraqi people to remove Saddam Hussein from office. The Voice of Free Iraq, a clandestine radio station probably sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency, has often reinforced this message. "We are with you," it told would-be revolutionaries, "in every heartbeat, in all your feelings, and in every move you make."

To make matters worse, American promises to shoot down Iraqi fixed-wing aircraft were not carried out.

There is no denying that the U.S. has incurred some moral responsibility to aid anti-Saddam forces. Nonetheless, the interest of both Americans and the people in the region are, in the long-term, best served by forbearance.

To begin with, American moral responsibility is limited. The U.S. government all along emphasized that it would not determine Iraq's future. Coming just weeks after tens of thousands of sorties against Iraqi targets, this statement has an admittedly peculiar ring. But, with the exception of some ill-advised (and off-the-cuff) remarks by President Bush, Washington always limited the goals of Operation Desert Storm to Kuwait. It specifically excluded Iraq. If the start of hostilities was announced by a rousing "The liberation of Kuwait has begun," the end came within hours after Iraqi forces had been expelled from Kuwait. As Secretary of State James Baker has pointed out, U.S. officials "repeated over and over again that the removal of

GE 2 TXT408 Saddam Hussein was neither a military nor a political objective."

There are worse prospects than Saddam Hussein staying in power. Here are two: an American occupation of Iraq or the dissolution of that country. U.S. government assistance to the anti-Saddam forces could over-commit Americans in Iraq. What begins with humanitarian and military aid can end up as something much larger. Providing blankets leads to repairing electricity grids and roads, shooting down aircraft ends up with the guaranteeing of international borders. The logic of power would eventually induce Americans to topple Saddam. Before anyone realizes what happened, U.S. forces would be occupying Iraq, with Schwarzkopf Pasha ruling from Baghdad.

It sounds romantic, but watch out. Like the Israelis in southern Lebanon nine years ago, American troops would find themselves quickly hated, with Shiites taking up suicide bombing, Kurds resuming their rebellion, and Syrian and Iranian governments plotting to sabotage American rule. Staying in place would become too painful, leaving too humiliating.

Alternatively, there is the danger of Iraq being dismembered. As Turkish president Turgut Ozal rightly observed, this would lead to "incalculable turmoil." The world economy needs a reasonably strong Iraq to balance Iran and assure the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. Were Iraqi power to disappear, Iran would likely become the regional hegemon, rationing oil according to its whims. Iraq's dissolution also raises the prospect of the Iranians imposing a fundamentalist Islamic regime on southern Iraq. Not only would this new state want to take Baghdad and reconstitute Iraq as a Shiite-dominated country, but it might well revitalize the Islamic revolution in Tehran, leading to fresh outbreaks of Khomeini-style aggression.

Further, the fracturing of Iraq would create chaos from the Persian Gulf and to Turkey. This week, the world is glorifying the Kurds. But if they achieve their long- sought independence in northern Iraq, some real fun would begin. Persecuted by Kurds, non-Kurds would flee the new state. Large and bloody exchanges of population would follow. Kurdish leaders, eyeing the predominantly Kurdish areas of Iran, Turkey and Syria, would destabilize those important countries. Border wars would proliferate, as would terrorism. A headline in the New York Times yesterday dubbed Kurds "the new Palestinians."

Do we really want to encourage all this?

Iraqis -- including Shiites and Kurds -- are our opponents. President Bush glossed over this fact when he stated that we were fighting Saddam Hussein, not the Iraqi people. But, as Daniel Boorstin points out, such a distinction flies in the face of a long-standing American tradition,

GE 3 TXT408 which holds the body politic responsible for the actions of its state. Does a people not have the government it deserves? True, Iraqis have suffered most from Saddam's tyranny, but they also abetted his foul regime for two decades. Ordinary Iraqi soldiers committed atrocities in Kuwait and now stand by Saddam. Substantial numbers of Shiites and Kurds joined the ruling apparatus, serving in capacities ranging from informant to prime minister. Had the Iraqi war machine been more competent, Iraqis might have killed tens of thousands of Americans. While the Iraqi population is not exactly an enemy of the U.S., it is by no means a friend.

The terrible viciousness of the Middle East is the final reason not to get involved within Iraq. Consider this depressing and predictable pattern of ethnic-based violence: The Iraqi army abuses and murders Kuwaitis. The Saudis expel 700,000 Yemenis long resident in Saudi Arabia because their government sides with Saddam Hussein. The Kuwaitis get their country back and kill Palestinians. The Iraqi army slaughters its Shiites and Kurds, emptying whole villages and destroying ancient shrines. Meanwhile, the killing goes on, year after year, in Chad, the Sudan, Lebanon and Afghanistan.

This awful litany could be extended in time. More to the point, were the Shiites or Kurds winning against Saddam, we would by now surely have witnessed scenes of Sunni Arabs being massacred. Do Americans wish to be party to such barbarism? There are many ghastly events in the Middle East and the U.S. lacks both the means and the will to fix them. That region is politically a sick place; outsiders would do well to keep a prudent moral distance.

This said, we can do more than watch the slaughter unfold. Washington can take limited steps to protect lives without fracturing Iraq or getting embroiled in its affairs. At a minimum, Mr. Bush should condemn Baghdad with much greater passion than he has so far done. American forces should redeploy their famous logistical capabilities to provide serious humanitarian assistance to the anti-Saddam rebels. Yesterday's White House announcement warning Baghdad not to interfere with efforts to aid the Kurds is very much the right idea; even better would be further to protect the refugees by declaring exclusion zones in which Iraqi aircraft are prohibited from flying.

Unlike The Wall Street Journal, which sees today's tragedy as a result of not pursuing Saddam Hussein's forces far enough, I see the tragedy resulting from Mr. Bush's verbal over-enthusiasm. Looking to the future, American politicians should recall this fiasco and be far more circumspect. NNNN

File Identification:  TX-408
PDQ Text Link:  179956