We bomb, therefore we bomb," seems to be Washington's policy toward Iraq.Ten years of sanctions and military strikes have failed to tame or oustSaddam Hussein. Yet the Bush administration thinks only of doing more ofthe same.
U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf has long been a pernicious muddle. A halfcentury ago, Washington helped install the Shah of Iran, whose thuggeryeventually spawned an Islamic revolution, which treated America as the"Great Satan."
After the humiliating seizure of the U.S. Embassy, Washington aided Iraq'sSaddam Hussein when he struck at Iran. After they fought to a draw, Iraq didwhat Washington was afraid Iran was going to do -- move on its gulfneighbors. Hussein swallowed Kuwait and eyed Saudi Arabia.
The gulf monarchies are ugly bastions of privilege in which antiquated royalfamilies leech off their poor subjects. But the various sheikdoms andemirates have oil, so the United States intervened to make the region safefor monarchy.
Yet an enfeebled Iraq raised the worrisome prospect of a resurgent Iran.So Washington left Iraq unconquered.
The earlier Bush administration established economic sanctions, created aninspections regime to forestall development of weapons of mass destruction,and imposed a "no-fly" zone throughout much of Iraq to inhibit militaryaction against Shiite and Kurdish rebels. The United States also backed amotley assemblage of Iraqi dissidents, hoping for a coup.
A decade later, American policy has failed. Completely. Sanctions havekilled hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians but proved to be only aminor inconvenience to Hussein. Iraq has ended U.N. inspections.
The United States (backed by Great Britain) continues to regularly bombIraq, yet America's attempt to protect Iraqi Kurds contrasts with America'ssupport for brutal Turkish suppression of Kurds in that country. Andfactional infighting has doomed Kurdish resistance.
Washington's support for other opponents of the regime has been even lesssuccessful. Hussein has hung many an alleged coup plotter from the nearestBaghdad lamppost.
The lack of results has sapped support from allied states. France and Russiahave tired of the ineffectual containment game and hope to profit fromrenewed commerce. Mideast states like Egypt and Turkey have begun to raincriticism down upon the United States.
Now what? Explained President George W. Bush: "We will continue to enforcethe 'no-fly' zones. The 'no-fly' zones are enforced on a daily basis. It isa part of a strategy, and until that strategy is changed, if it is changedat all, we will continue to enforce the 'no-fly' zone."
That's really helpful. The administration will continue to pursue a strategythat has manifestly failed unless it changes that strategy.
Doing more of the same doesn't deserve to be called a strategy.
Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wasreduced to endorsing the attacks because "America cannot afford to show anyweakness in dealing with Mr. Hussein." Containing Iraq militarilyapparently means haphazardly bombing forces and installations that in no waythreaten Iraq's neighbors.
Were Washington policy-makers not wedded to failure, they would trysomething different.
First, drop the "no-fly" zone. No purpose is served in preventing Iraq'sair force from flying throughout Iraq.
Second, recognize the limits of U.S. power. Washington can't force a changein Baghdad.
It certainly won't do so by funding groups like the Iraqi National Congress,which has so far used American aid to set up offices, hold a conference andgenerate publicity. Just a guess, but Hussein, one of the nastiest brutes tocontrol a country, probably isn't scared.
Third, negotiate to drop sanctions in exchange for inspections and importcontrol regime that limits Baghdad's access to the tools necessary todevelop weapons of mass destruction. The effectiveness of such a systemwould be limited, but with sanctions fraying daily and inspectors barred byIraq since 1998, almost anything would be an improvement.
Fourth, expect friendly nations to develop militaries and build popularsupport to contain Iraq. The United States, with security dependents strewnabout the globe, shouldn't add another set of permanent wards.
Patrick Cronin of the U.S. Institute of Peace lauds the latest attack forsending a message that other Arab regimes "are not left alone at the timeof the 10th anniversary of the gulf victory." But only the prospect ofbeing alone will move them to cooperate against Hussein.
And, to adopt the sort of political reforms that would make them lessvulnerable. The obvious illegitimacy of regimes like that in Saudi Arabiaposes as great a danger to stable oil supplies as does anything beingconcocted by Saddam Hussein.
Washington has tried and failed in its attempt to transform Iraq. It's timeto instead transform U.S. policy toward Iraq.