Monday, February 23, 1998

Week of 02/23/1998

Between Iraq And A Hard Place
Going to war over.. pride?
- by David Matthews 2

As you read this article, troops are being sent to the Middle East, to sit on aircraft carriers and bases in Kuwait. The war of words between President Saddam "Desert Rat" Hussein of Iraq and President Bill "Political Rat" Clinton is on the verge of escalating into actual warfare.

OK, let’s break this down for those of you who have a hard time understanding what this is all about: (Timeline courtesy of Reuters)

  • 1990-91 - Iran invades Kuwait in 1990. The United Nations imposes strong economic sanctions as they consider military options. A US-led attack on Iraq begins with a 40-day air assault, followed by a 100-hour ground assault to liberate Kuwait.
  • February 1991 - The United States and allies drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Later in the year, U.S., British and French planes start patrolling Iraq's northern skies to shield Iraq's Kurds from attack by Baghdad.
  • Dec. 27, 1992 - A U.S. F-16 fighter shoots down an Iraqi MiG in no-fly zone in southern Iraq.
  • January 1993 - U.S. and allied planes blast Iraqi military targets over several days in retaliation for alleged violations of cease-fire terms.
  • June 1993 - U.S. warships fire 23 cruise missiles at Baghdad, destroying Iraqi intelligence service headquarters wing. The missiles kill six people. The attack was ordered to avenge an alleged Iraqi plot to kill former U.S. President George Bush.
  • July and August 1993 - U.S. planes strike at anti-aircraft missile sites in a series of missile attacks in no-fly zones over southern and northern Iraq.
  • October 1994 - Iraqi Republican Guards move into southern Iraq near the border with Kuwait. The United States and Britain send forces toward Kuwait.
  • Aug. 31, 1996 - President Bill Clinton places U.S. forces in the Gulf on alert after Iraqi troops supporting the Kurdistan Democratic Party capture the northern Iraqi city of Arbil from rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
  • Sept. 3, 1996 - U.S. forces fire 27 sea- and air-launched missiles at targets in southern Iraq. Washington says the strikes are a warning to Iraq to comply with the Gulf war cease-fire resolutions. President Saddam Hussein orders his forces to ignore the no-fly zones and shoot down intruders.
  • Sept. 4, 1996 - The United States launches a second wave of cruise missiles at Iraqi military targets in what the United States says is an effort to destroy Iraq's ability to attack aircraft enforcing expanded no-fly zone in southern Iraq.
  • Sept. 11, 1996 - Iraq fires one surface-to-air missile at two U.S. F-16 jets policing the no-fly zone over northern Iraq.
  • Sept. 13, 1996 - Iraq makes the surprise announcement that it would suspend all attacks against allied warplanes patrolling two no-fly zones. The announcement comes as the U.S. military build-up in Gulf gathers pace, including 5,000 troops.
  • Nov. 3, 1996 - The United States says a jet fires a missile at Iraqi radar, but Baghdad denies incident and accuses the White House of spreading "false news" to help Clinton's re-election chances.
  • Oct. 29, 1997 - Iraq, acting in response to a U.N. Security Council resolution threatening ban on travel abroad by Iraqi officials who interfere with weapons inspections, bars Americans from weapons teams on its territory and gives them a week to leave the country. The Security Council condemns decision and the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), set up after the Gulf war to eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, suspends all field operations. A three-week crisis ensues during which United States assembles a force of 30 warships, 250 planes and bombers in the region.
  • Nov. 3, 1997 - Iraq warns it will shoot down U-2 spy planes if the United Nations does not cancel them. Baghdad blocks U.S. members of U.N. team from a weapons site. The United Nations halts three inspections.
  • Nov. 12, 1997 - The Security Council imposes an international travel ban on Iraqi officials impeding U.N. weapons teams and condemns Iraq for blocking American U.N. arms inspectors.
  • Nov. 13, 1997 - Iraq expels American arms monitors.
  • Nov. 14, 1997 - UNSCOM head Richard Butler pulls inspection teams out of Iraq, leaving a skeleton staff.
  • Nov. 20, 1997 - Iraq and Russia agree arms inspectors can return to work. Russia is to promote lifting of sanctions against Iraq once Baghdad complies with U.N. resolutions. Iraq says Russia will guarantee measures, including "balanced representation" of members in UNSCOM, suspending inspection of presidential sites and flights of U.S.-operated U-2 spy planes.
  • Nov. 21, 1997 - U.N. arms inspectors, including Americans, return to Iraq to resume inspections.
  • Dec. 15, 1997 - Butler says Iraq told him it would never allow inspectors to enter presidential sites.
  • Jan. 13, 1998 - Iraq prevents arms inspectors, led by American Scott Ritter, from doing their work. U.S. Defense Secretary Cohen says the Iraq crisis "can't go on indefinitely," but will continue to seek diplomatic solution.
  • Jan. 16, 1998 - Iraq renews an offer of direct talks with United States. Ritter's team leaves Iraq.
  • Jan. 17 - Saddam threatens to halt U.N. weapons inspections and warns Washington against military action.
  • Jan. 18 - Baghdad urges all Iraqis to train against any military threat from United States.
  • Jan. 21 - Washington says an Iraqi proposal to freeze inspection of presidential sites is unacceptable.
  • Jan. 23 - U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warns the face-off with Iraq is unacceptable and cannot continue.
  • Jan. 27 - A Russian envoy to Baghdad vows to make every effort to avert a military solution. U.S. Republican congressional leaders are united against Baghdad despite a sex scandal dogging Clinton. The Pentagon says Defense Secretary Cohen may visit the Gulf region in early February to discuss military action against Iraq.
  • Jan. 31 - Cohen says any U.S. attack would be "significant" but not intending to destroy Iraq or topple Saddam. Albright, meeting with British Foreign Secretary Cook, says the time is fast approaching for decisions as diplomacy seems unable to resolve crisis.
  • Feb. 1 - Kuwait tells Albright it backs the United States if military action is necessary against Iraq, a U.S. official says. The Russian special envoy returns to Baghdad. France and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat will send representatives.
  • Feb. 2 - Iraq denies a Russian report it agreed to allow inspection of presidential sites. Albright claims support from Saudi Arabia for a tough stand against Iraq. But the request to use Saudi bases unresolved.
  • Feb. 3 - British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledges full support to U.S. military action. China reiterates opposition to the use of force. Russia says a special envoy progresses in persuading Iraq to comply with United Nations, with Russian and French foreign ministers in Baghdad to coordinate. The Kuwait military is on high alert. Albright says key Arab leaders agree Iraq is responsible for "grave consequences" if it continues to defy the United Nations.
  • Feb. 4 - Yeltsin says Clinton’s actions in the crisis can lead to world war. CNN says Iraq proposed opening eight presidential sites to inspections for one month. Washington and the United Nations say the offer is inadequate. Arab League Secretary-General Esmat Abdel-Meguid disbelieves Albright’s comments that Arab leaders are prepared to acquiesce to U.S. military action. France says it and Russia are aiming for a diplomatic solution. Clinton calls for "genuine diplomatic solution."
  • Feb. 5 - China repeats it does not favor force. France will not take part in any military action. Paris says Iraq’s position changed slightly but not enough. Britain says an Iraqi inspection offer is unacceptable. Yeltsin says the worst is over. A third U.S. aircraft carrier enters Gulf.
  • Feb. 6 - Another 2,200 U.S. Marines head for Gulf. Clinton concentrates on the military buildup, working with U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson to gather diplomatic support. The State Department says there are no plans to use nuclear weapons but a response to any germ warfare attack would be "swift, devastating and overwhelming." Saddam tells a Turkish envoy he accepts his fate in a military standoff. "We are complying with the U.N. resolutions but America is distorting this. We are prepared for anything," he said. Israel reserves option to retaliate against any Iraqi attack. United States urges it not to fight back.

Now we are once again at the edge of conflict. And the five-sided "experts" have already given this conflict a name for the press to hype - Desert Thunder.

Let’s get brutally honest here - if this conflict does turn to warfare, it will be nothing but a war for pride for both parties. Like two cheap punks on the schoolyard, these two blowhards are engaging in an endless tirade of saber-rattling, seeing who will back down first. Unlike Desert Shield/Desert Storm, this conflict isn’t even about oil, or the eminent threat to Arabic neighbors. There is no talk about "annexing Kuwait" again, and no Iraqi troops massing towards the borders. This is about two egotistical maniacs in positions of power. (Or three, if you still consider Hillary a "co-president.")

Saddam Hussein has nothing to lose and everything to gain by constantly goading America to war. He knows as long as he’s (1) still alive, and (2) still in power, he’s proven to his Arabic associates that he’s once again thumbed it to the United States. Even if he backs down now, he still wins.

And more importantly, Bill Clinton has EVERYTHING to lose if he doesn’t commit to nothing short of military action now. He’s already mobilized the troops, and is trying to gain support from the international community as well as from home. To suddenly back down now would make America look far worse than its "paper tiger" image from the Carter Administration. The embarrassment from the Iranian hostage ordeal would pale in comparison to a superpower deemed not just impotent, but cowardly.

What’s making matters worse is the attitude from the rest of the international world. France, China, and Russia are playing the three monkeys - see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. They should have realized that sooner or later, Hussein would be challenging the resolve of the United Nations when it comes to lifting sanctions. They signed on to helping resolve the Kuwait matter, and now when it comes to the dirty part of hammering the message home, they turn tail and play critic.

It’s been alleged by the media that countries like Russia are helping Iraq because they are strapped for cash, and that Iraq has amassed a huge uncollected debt. Wouldn’t it be in Russia’s best interest if they told Iraq to get their act together so they can get the sanctions lifted? That way they can get the money they are owed.

Oh, wait a minute, that would be asking something too simplistic out of politicians.. Even in the world arena, the language of 100% pure methane is the preferred discourse.

Make no mistake, the goal of Desert Thunder is simple: to spank Saddam for his repeated tamper tantrum. The "Big Babysitter" model, used to describe other Clinton Administration efforts, is well in effect here. "Big Babysitter" Washington needs to punish an impetuous child in Iraq, and the older siblings (France, China, Russia) are balking at the manner of punishment.

But even military veterans who would otherwise support the action are asking "what then?" People are getting tired of having to rush to action against a two-bit tyrant with delusions of grandeur. Americans have enough of a time dealing with the Gods of Mount Morality running roughshod in Washington, never mind a political wannabe in Baghdad. And while this author believes we have no choice now but to act, lest we lose international integrity, the question remains - what then?

Support in the Gulf War in many areas was under the assumption that Saddam would either be out of office or killed when it was over. The very reason why a country like Israel, known for being pro-active against Arab threats, kept out of the Gulf War even after being attacked repeatedly by scud missiles, was because of the implied belief that we would take care of Saddam. We let them down in that regard. If Saddam decides to attack Israel again, don’t be surprised if the Israelis decide to take matters into their own hands.

On the other hand, Clinton has much to gain by engaging with Saddam now. He gets to diffuse a tense scandal situation that actually has impeachment buzzards circling for the first time since Iran-Contra. Nobody wants to appear they are underscoring the President when leadership is needed the most. And should he win the day, Clinton will give his heir apparent, Al Gore, a big campaign boost for the year 2000 elections, as well as put another stake in the heart of the GOP.

It’s ironic that Clinton, who dodged the draft in the Vietnam War, would be in a position where he would rattle more sabers than a World War I veterans reunion. But he inherited a country that operated on the skewed belief that it was somehow a "world parent" or "global babysitter" and now has to live up to that responsibility.

The really sad part about this is we haven’t learned the lessons from the past. Tyrants don’t care one whit about the people they control. It doesn’t matter if it’s Iraq, Libya, or Panama.. or even here in the good ol’ US of A. It’s only when the threat becomes personal will a tyrant worry.

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