Lifestyles Left and Right

Playing Saddam’s Game

He has bought more time than the market can bear.

3.9.03

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In the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was faced with United Nations mandates for disarmament, weapons inspections and economic sanctions. His strategy from then on was to buy time.

During the years of the initial inspections he used endless quibbles to slow and frustrate the process, ultimately ejecting the inspectors for good in 1998. The feckless U.N. Security Council passed resolution after resolution. While Iraq was limited to pumping enough oil to meet humanitarian needs of its people, Saddam soon controlled a thriving black market in oil, sending a stream of trucks out to Syria. Meanwhile, his scientists and technicians were at work on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons plans and development.

Once U.N. Resolution 1441 passed last September, Saddam opened a new chapter in his buy-time strategy. This involved the appearance of cooperation, mixed with delaying tactics. The weapons inventory required under 1441 produced a voluminous, but incomplete, document. Among other shortcomings, Iraq failed to account for biological and chemical weapons the original inspectors had found.

By appearing to cooperate with the inspectors at various times, Saddam encouraged those on the Security Council with ulterior motives to call for an extended inspection period.

During the ensuing months, every time an American or British fighter plane bombed an Iraqi radar site in one of the "no-fly" zones, Saddam's propaganda machine immediately claimed several civilians had been killed. Furthermore, he said an all-out attack on Iraq would be met fiercely, hoping to conjure images of large numbers of American and allied troops being killed. This, he reasoned, would feed an anti-war movement in the U.S. and Europe.

If he could string out till summer a concoction of equal parts cooperation, denial that he had weapons of mass destruction, frightening propaganda and characterizing Iraq as a victim of imperialism, he might avoid any military action for the balance of the year. If he could do that, those 200,000 allied troops gathering in the region could not be kept in a state of high readiness for months on end. The cost would be stupendous and political opposition to their deployment would build until George Bush would be forced to bring them home . That, coupled with anti-war sentiment and an election in 2004, would make it impossible for Bush to mount another buildup next year. That has been Saddam's game. In it, he enlisted, wittingly or unwittingly, a number of players to help his cause:

Blix and Baradei. They are beginning to look like See-no-Evil and Hear-no-Evil. Their reports to the Security Council are always of the on-the-one-hand-this-on-the-other-hand-that sort, but with enough hints at Iraqi cooperation to fuel the arguments of the French and others that the inspections must go on and on and there must be no military action. This reporting pattern thus encourages Saddam to continue his deceive-then-cooperate-then deceive again tactics.

Anti-war Demonstrators. Typically, demonstrations bring out a mixture of youths looking for a good time, middle-aged hippies dreaming of the Summer of Love, earnest peace-seekers and a hard core of anarchists and far-leftists who do the organizing. All carry signs and shout slogans to convey bumper-stick philosophy ("Win Without War"). They have no alternative to forced disarmament of Saddam's Iraq, save the hope that, somehow, the problem will just go way.

France. The French have several reasons to act as they are in this matter. They are Iraq's largest trading partner in Western Europe; they have major oil field contracts; they are owed approximately $7 billion by Iraq; French companies, through intermediaries, have recently sold spare parts to the Iraq Air Force for its Mirage jets and French military helicopters; there are some seven million Muslims in France (most from former North African colonies) and the French are very nervous about how they would react to a military strike in Iraq; envy of the United States; and, last but not least, la gloire, the belief that France is the only country that counts.

When the chips are down, probably tomorrow at the Security Council, France may veto the latest resolution (though they have given themselves some wiggle room for a change of heart and, in the past, have clamored aboard at the last minutes). As for Russia and China, their standing with France in opposition to the U.S-U.K. resolution is a rhetorical one. They figure that if there is a veto, it will come from France. Meanwhile, their public stance is good for domestic politics. In addition, the Chinese always enjoy our discomfort in their endless quest to replace us as the dominant force in the Western Pacific.

You have to hand it to Saddam. His strategy has been a crafty one which seemed on the verge of success several times. It looks as if the resolution may pass tomorrow, but pass or fail, veto or no, George Bush has not and will not blink. For Saddam, time's up.

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