Some Reflections on Iraq

With emotions heightened by the first anniversary of the terrible tragedy of 9/11, President Bush sought a day later to win round the UN General Assembly and the wider world to his administration’s aggressive confrontation with Iraq. In a widely anticipated speech – a laudable piece of eloquence – the President glided from terrorism to a condemnation of Saddam as a threat to his neighbors and to the world at large.

Meticulously avoided was any mention of Saddam’s real and openly expressed threat to Israel. He is reported to have increased monetary rewards and bounties to the families of suicide bombers of Palestine!

What is much more important is the President’s wise and pragmatic decision to take the UN route for dealing with Iraq. The hawks in his administration, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice in particular, had been advocating unilateral invasion of Iraq. Such a course of action was endorsed only by the leaders of Israel, UK (the poodle) and Australia (poodle of the poodle).

Presidents of France, Russia and China, veto-bearing members of the Security Council, pointed out to Mr. Bush the follies of a unilateral attack on Iraq. The entire Muslim world, including the perennial US allies, Turkey and Pakistan, expressed their opposition to the war cries against Iraq.

Above all other considerations stood the fact that the American people had serious reservations about going it alone. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center showed that while 64 % of Americans supported American military action to oust Saddam Hussein, only 30 % would favor going in without allies.

The House and the Senate are still debating the issue before authorizing the President to wage a war on Iraq. Bush has a mountain of skepticism to overcome in canvassing with members of Congress to endorse a preemptive attack on Iraq.

For an ordinary American it is difficult to see what threat a small country of 20 million, virtually sapped of its vitality owing to the dozen or so UN sanctions, can hold for the mighty super power. Yes, it could indeed indulge in terrorism. But, it has had no link with Al-Qaeda, and the CIA has found no evidence of its involvement in terrorist activities against the US. Comparing Saddam to Hitler insults even an ordinary American’s intelligence.

Saddam is no popular figure of the Middle East. He is a despicable demagogue, a ruthless dictator, and a thoroughly unscrupulous power maniac. That is the unavoidable impression one gains on going through some of the books written on him. The earlier he exits, the better it would be for the people of Iraq. Yet, they seem to like his guts and defiance of the super power. And, he is adept at keeping the emotions of his people on the boil all the time following a Machiavellian dictum.

Iraq has the potential of being one of the richest countries of the world. It has the second largest reservoir of oil, next only to that of Saudi Arabia. Iraqis are intelligent, hard working and ambitious people. All they need is the freedom to labor and live well. One may not agree with President Bush that Iraq is a “grave and gathering danger”, but one finds it hard to take issue with his observation that “liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause”.

The general opposition of Arab governments to any armed action in pursuit of this cause is embedded in the apprehension of its likely domino effect. Arab leaders have repeatedly pointed out that a “change of regime” in Iraq might trigger similar demands in the neighboring Arab countries which are dominated by monarchies and ruling dynasties committed to the maintenance of status quo.

Vice-President Cheney visited last March eleven Middle East countries to convince Arab governments to join a military campaign against Iraq. The trip was a failure, according to Washington Post. The Arab leaders told him that violence between Israel and Palestine should recede first and warned that an invasion of Iraq would destabilize the entire region. The Arab stand remains unchanged. Jordan has an added fear. Israel would join the fray and take the opportunity to push the Palestinians into neighboring Jordan.

An attack led by the US might provoke Saddam to take on Israel and unleash his chemical and biological weapons there. Their ill-effects will spread to all neighboring countries. Saddam would have no regard for that. If American troops land on Iraqi soil, such weapons of mass damage might be used by Saddam against them too, regardless of the deaths of his own people. Behaving like a senseless desperado seems to be in his blood.

Such fears make out a good case for the UN inspectors to be inducted into Iraq early so that they locate the stockpiles of such weapons and destroy them. Deweaponizing Iraq should be the chief objective of all UN measures now. If a magic wand could be waved to make Saddam disappear, every one would applaud it. But, that being beyond the realm of possibility, and war being a hazardous proposition, diplomatic moves under UN auspices to remove Iraq’s teeth appear to be an option acceptable to all.

The war on terror is not over yet; matter of fact Afghanistan continues to be in deep turmoil necessitating the US presence for a long time. It would be advisable for the Bush administration to concentrate on that front for the resolution of all issues before opening another front in Iraq.

Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Allen Greenspan, issued a stern warning against deficit financing and ad hoc expenditures, putting an avoidable strain on the economy already in recession. Interestingly, he issued this warning the very day (Sept. 12) that Bush addressed the UN Assembly. Never has he come out with such a strong warning ever since he became the Fed Chairman. Would the administration pay heed to what he is saying?

While the President was addressing the UN on the need to contain Saddam, the Fed Chairman appeared to be addressing his administration on the need to contain expenditure. The graph of defense spending has recorded a sharp rise upwards – a causes celebre for defense industries only. Will sanity prevail over subjective considerations?