The Dual Containment Strategy Is No Longer Viable
The U.S. policy of dual containment of Iran and Iraq has run its course. Given the geopolitical changes that have swept the Middle East since the Gulf War, continuing the same policy would only destabilize our allies and undermine our strategic interests in the region. A careful review of this policy strongly suggests that the Clinton administration should now adopt new measures in addition to the U.N. sanctions that can bring about dramatic political changes in Iraq, including the ouster of President Saddam Hussein. At the same time, the United States must change its adversarial policy toward Iran, initiating a process of passive engagement that could lead toward the normalization of relations between the two countries.
In order to maintain a balance of power in the Persian Gulf region, previous U.S. administrations played Iran and Iraq off against each other or backed either or both at the same time (as we did for a period during the Iran-Iraq War). The Clinton administration, however, rejected that tactic in favor of a strategy of dual containment premised on the new geopolitical conditions attending the post Cold War era. The countries that perennially opposed the United States – Syria, Iraq and Iran – have lost their Soviet/Russian backing, thereby changing the regional balance of power. That balance is now based on a considerably lower level of military capability than obtained during the Cold War. This has resulted in limiting the strength and reach of both Iran and Iraq and reducing their strategic potential-so long as they remain at odds with each other. "We seek to maintain a favorable balance," said National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, "without depending on either." This assumes, of course, that nothing has changed internally in Iraq and Iran and geopolitically in the region to warrant a fresh look at the current policy.
Since 1991, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been transformed into a peace process. Israel and the Palestinians have reached two agreements designed to lead to a complete peace accord, and Israel and Jordan have signed a full peace treaty. The October 1995 economic conference in Amman, Jordan, with Israel and representatives of 80 nations including a dozen Arab states, was inconceivable only two years ago. The presence of more than 70 heads of state in Israel during Rabin's funeral further attests to the farreaching changes that have swept the Middle East. Islamic "fundamentalism" is waning and may, in fact, have already seen its zenith, paving the way to political discourse between the many Islamist groups and the region's secular regimes.
It is unlikely that the current policy of dual containment will bring about the collapse of the regimes in Iran and Iraq or, at a minimum, force them to comply with international norms of conduct. What may work against Iraq will not work against Iran. Consequently, the United States must now develop two separate sets of strategies, each tailored to the unique characteristics and changing conditions in Iraq and Iran, while serving the long-term strategic interests of the United States and its allies.
IRAN: CONTAINMENT AND ITS SHORTCOMINGS
The promoters of this policy in the administration cite Iran's unacceptable behavior on a range of issues: its sponsorship of terrorist activities within and outside the region, its continued efforts to subvert friendly governments through the export of Islamic revolution, its opposition to the Arab-Israeli peace process, its relentless pursuit of the material and technology needed for weapons of mass destruction including nuclear arms and, finally, its dismal human-rights record. The Clinton administration insists that Iran continues systematically to undermine U.S. interests and shows no inclination to change its ways.
From the Iranian standpoint the United States has been bullying Iran since the fall of the shah and is determined to crush the revolution and replace the regime. To make its case Iran lists U.S. support of Iraq in the war against Iran, the downing of the Iranian civilian airliner in July 1988, and the general U.S. policy of containment and economic sanctions. Most recently, the Iranians were enraged by the revelations that Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had pushed through Congress a $20-million appropriation earmarked for covert activities designed to topple the Iranian government. The Iranian government further believes that U.S. policy toward Iran is based more on emotion and a narrow political perspective than it is on the facts of Iran's conduct. They maintain that the United States is still traumatized by the 1979-80 hostage crisis and that Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who was deeply involved in the hostage negotiations as under secretary of State in the Carter administration, remains personally wounded by the experience. Iranian officials argue that this is a psychological hang-up that only the Americans themselves can resolve. Finally, the Iranians view U.S. power with alarm and express profound fear of U.S. intentions and ambitions in the Gulf. They accuse the United States of catering to unfounded Israeli and Saudi fear of Iran, when in fact, Iran has no designs against either country.
A close look at U.S. and Iranian positions reveals a clear misunderstanding of each other's motives compounded by mutual distrust. Iran fails to appreciate the strategic interests in the Gulf that have shaped U.S. policy. The Iranians see themselves as conciliatory and peaceful rather than as subversive in their relations with their neighbors. Iran points to its useful role during the Gulf War and its efforts to release the hostages from Lebanon as clear indications of its desire to play a constructive role in the region. The United States, on the other hand, continues to view Iran as a state that sponsors terrorism, bent on exporting its brand of Islamic revolution and determined to undermine Arab regimes allied with the United States. Further, the United States accuses the Iranian regime of pursuing a political and military strategy that will lead to its goal of becoming the dominant power in the Gulf.
Although Iran's past performance and public policy must be considered, American strategy should not be based solely on these two elements. To avoid the mistakes of the past, the geopolitical realities that dominate the Gulf must be reassessed and Iran's strengths and weaknesses evaluated in order to get a better grasp on how its rulers sees themselves and the problems they and their country face. This assessment must be free of the preconceptions that can cloud good judgment. After all, essential strategic interests of the United States and its allies are at stake, along with future regional security and American credibility.
Although Iran must certainly be accountable for its actions, the containment policy has failed to effect a change in the regime's behavior. While the economic embargo and sanctions have stung the Iranian economy, these measures have failed to produce economic hardship severe enough to cripple the regime. The United States has failed to persuade its allies to join in taking similar measures. Indeed, even limited success of the U.S. policy depends largely on the cooperation of its allies, especially Germany, Japan and Italy, Iran's main trading partners. These countries, along with France, Russia and China, stand in line to do business with Iran and are delighted to see the United States out of the lucrative Iranian market. None have shown much inclination to sacrifice financial profits for a policy they consider, at best, ineffective. Iran has systematically opened up new financial and economic channels to Europe and is cultivating similar ties with the smaller Gulf states, especially Oman and Qatar. Iran continues to sell abroad almost all of its 3.4 million barrels of daily oil production and has had little trouble maintaining its network of foreign clients.
Much of Iran's short- and medium-term national debt is owed to the European Community and Japan. As a result, these countries have a vested interest in Iran's economic development and completely reject the idea of forcing Tehran to default on its debt. In addition, moderating the regime's behavior would require more than an unenforceable economic embargo. In any event, Europe's and Japan's share in Iran's overall economic picture has been exaggerated and does not even approach having a decisive impact. In fact, the clergy's mismanagement of the country's finances has contributed considerably more to Iran's economic malaise than the U.S. containment policy.
There is no indication that the present regime is in danger of falling, and, unlike Iraq's secular government, Iran's religious political system is by far more emotionally compelling than Iraq's ruthless secularism. Iran has free parliamentary elections in which everyone votes. The fact that Iran is in every respect more democratic than any Arab state attests to the clergy's confidence in the direction of the Islamic revolution. There is ample evidence to suggest that Islam will remain central to any political order that might succeed the present one. Unlike Iraq, Iran has multi-centered powers with many competing individuals, which makes Iran a partially open and evolving society. The Iranians have a very strong historical identity, and, as a multi-ethnic society, share a cultural bond that holds them together. The Iranian parliament allows for open discussion, and the Iranian press is more free and lively than most Arab presses. In Iran there is still opportunity to speak out even against the clergy, and the country thrives on maintaining its political independence while enjoying active diplomatic relations all over the world.
Iran is, in fact, the hegemon of the Gulf and in that sense is in a category all by itself. Iran's population of nearly 70 million is more than one-and-one-half times the combined populations of the rest of the Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and Iraq. It is estimated that by the year 2020 Iran's population will exceed 160 million. With such a potential for population growth and with its strategic location and huge oil reserves, Iran will remain a dominant state in the area. There can be no permanent peace and stability in the Gulf or regional security without Iran. The country will continue to be a key to maintaining the balance of power in the region against its arch enemy, Iraq. This fact must be carefully considered in light of the region's traditional political unpredictability. Iran will always be in a position either to exploit unrest in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia or to work toward cooperation and peace. Iran has spearheaded the modern rise of Islamism; it is still looked upon by other Islamists as a source of inspiration and emulation. Regardless of the socio-economic failures of the Iranian revolution, Hamas in Israel/Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Islamic Salvation Front in Algiers and other Islamic groups look to Iran for guidance and support. Islamic fundamentalism, the Iranian type or others, will be around for a long time. How Iran is dealt with will have major ripple effects around the Arab-Islamic world, a world, it must be stressed, that does not want to see Islam humiliated, even if some of its members are staunch enemies of Iran.
Finally, there is one other important development to consider. The United States in Bosnia might find itself inadvertently and indirectly working with Iran in training and supplying the Bosnian army so as to deter Serb aggression once the U.S. forces leave. Iran has been an active supporter of the Bosnian government throughout the 43-month Bosnian war. Military analysts confirm that several thousand Iranians have fought on the Muslim side. It is common knowledge that in the post-war-period Iran will be in the forefront of states who can provide military and economic assistance to Bosnia. The Bosnian Muslims are not likely, now or in the future, to embrace Iran's Islamic dogmas and will depend much more on the United States for their long-term national security needs. Although Iran and the United States have different agendas in Bosnia, they may find that cooperation is a "necessary evil."
THE EFFECT OF U.S. POLICY
There is no doubt that the effects of the Iran-Iraq war and U.S. sanctions have taken their toll in Iran. There has been a steady decline in public support for the clergy, as evidenced by a decrease in attendance at mosques. Without this power base, which only the faithful could provide, the clergy has become vulnerable and faces the danger of losing its grip on power. Its inability to deliver on its promises has given rise to public hostility, leaving a growing number of Iranians disenchanted with both politics and religion. Iranian intellectuals have become cynical and vociferous in insisting that Iran's socioeconomic ills lie at the clergy's doorstep. Even many of those who do not object to the clergy in politics recognize the practical limits of religious commitment and maintain that the mullahs' place should be in the mosques, not in government.
Growing public discontent extends even deeper into Iran's non-Persian population, a matter that causes the mullahs some trepidation. Losing control over the provinces, particularly during times of economic and political upheaval, has been a recurring phenomenon in Iran's history. Should the revolutionary guards or the army grow further disillusioned with the government's policies and its ineptitude in dealing with mounting problems, their loyalty could conceivably shift to alternate power centers leading to a serious social and political disruption. That said, there is no indication that the Iranian government is about to collapse either because of its internal difficulties or continued American pressure. In fact, the United States is playing into the hands of the extremists, something that could have the unintended result of pushing Iran and Iraq closer together. It is time for the United States to rid itself of its hostage fixation and begin to look at Iran as a potential strategic asset.
I do not suggest here that because of Iran's strategic importance the United States should appease its government or overlook its transgressions. Indeed, Iran has much to answer for regarding its deplorable human-rights practices, its thirst to procure the technology of mass destruction and its subversive activities abroad. But the United States, whose interests in the region (and those of its allies) will always be affected by Iran's behavior, must distinguish among Iran's various misdeeds and deal with each on its own merits. The only remaining superpower cannot afford to demean itself by pursuing a petty and vindictive policy that has proven to be counter-productive.
Although Iran and the United States are two profoundly different societies, there still exists in Iran a deep attraction to the Western lifestyle. Since Iran has borrowed much from the institutions, infrastructure and technology of the West, Iran's clergy knows that major changes will have to occur if it wants to avert political and economic disaster. The regime may have already pushed the Iranians beyond the limits of tolerance, perhaps to the point of raising serious questions about the legitimacy of its political leadership. Increasingly, Iranians ask if then-leaders can be trusted to navigate out of the current doldrums; increasingly, they appear in doubt.
U.S. POLICY RECONSIDERED
Certainly the United States must remain concerned with Iran's capability for mischief; but, at the same time, one might ask what more the United States could expect to gain from its current policy? The United States has already established its military preeminence in the Gulf, and the Gulf states feel less constrained in cooperating with the United States. Iran has been unable to disrupt the Arab-Israeli peace process, and now, more than at any time previously, it understands its limitations in exporting its revolution. With a population of 70 million and its special strategic position, Iran can hardly be ignored in determining future Gulf security. In that sense, as it had been under the shah, Iran remains critically important to long-term U.S. strategic interests in the region, a factor that does not change because of the clergy's behavior. Therefore the United States should adopt a policy that would engage the Iranians, who appear ready and even eager for American contact and normalized relations. I do not here argue the presence of the sorts of "moderate" and, as it turned out, mythical Iranian leaders with whom the Reagan White House sought to negotiate during the Iran-Contra affair. There are now self-interested, pragmatic people, both inside and outside the Iranian government, who can be engaged to our mutual benefit. The Iran of 1995 is a far different place from the Iran of 1979-80. Fifteen years of (mis)rule by the ayatollahs has made it possible for Iranians to view the outside world, not to speak of what was once the Great Satan, less ideologically.
First, the United States should abandon its policy of containment in favor of a policy of "passive engagement." This would mean allowing U.S. companies to do business with Iran and permitting contacts between American educational and financial institutions and their Iranian counterparts. Foreign investments could gradually transform the Iranian economy, creating a new competing center of commerce, rivalries for capital, jealousies between the provinces, and an expansion of trade and manufacturing far beyond the clergy's ability to manage. This approach would further weaken, rather than strengthen, the mullahs, who capitalize on the lack of contact with the United States to instill resentment and fear of America. It will further reduce the clergy's already shrinking public support, something that has occurred despite, rather than because of, containment. American commercial activity in Iran will undermine the basis, if not the ethos, of the revolution.
Second, we should cool our rhetoric and stop labeling Iran as "evil," "a rogue country" or "an outlaw state." Singling out Iran regularly for condemnation makes it extremely difficult to change our policy toward that country and even harder to change American public opinion about Iran. Candor, not hypocrisy, is called for here. We can and should hold Iran responsible for any terrorist activity clearly linked to its government. But we must not fall into the trap of blaming Iran for every subversive activity taken by an Islamic group, much as we used to blame Communist Russia for every leftist uprising regardless of its cause. The rise of Islamism can hardly be equated to the rise of communism, as some Western observers, including former Secretary General of the European Community Willy Claes, would have us believe.
In countries other than Iran, Islamic groups have failed in then- campaigns to achieve power. In Israel, Hamas has indicated its willingness to suspend its anti-Israeli violence and is negotiating with the PLO to join the political process. In Egypt, the Islamic Group is on the run and has been losing influence to the non-violent Muslim Brotherhood. In Lebanon, the Islamist Hezbollah's (the Party of God) lease on life is in the hands of Syria's President Hafez Asad and will expire as soon as an Israeli-Syrian peace is achieved. In Jordan, the Islamic Brotherhood has long since settled for a political option. In Algiers in December 1995, the first pluralistic presidential elections since independence in 1962 sent a clear message that the public is fed up with violence. The strong showing of support for the secular government and the resurgence of a moderate Hamas clearly demonstrated public sentiment. Finally, Sudan, the second convert to Islamic orthodoxy, is plagued by a civil war claiming the lives of thousands each week. This is hardly a record that promotes an international Islamic ground-swell, and indeed Iran's ability to export its revolution beyond its borders has been dramatically reduced.
Third, the nuclear issue has to be placed at the top of the agenda with Iran. The United States and its allies in the region have a legitimate concern with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, if a way was found to deal with North Korea on this issue, it should certainly be possible to deal with Iran. One cause for optimism is that Iran has repeatedly stated that it will adhere to all International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verification and inspection requirements. We can further insist on a clear-cut agreement about the disposal of spent fuel and on appropriate safeguards for any reactor Iran may acquire. Russia and other countries determined to sell nuclear technology to Iran will be far more receptive to such a proposal than to coercive American diplomacy aimed at forcing cancellation of a deal promising millions of dollars in hard currency for the supplying country.
Fourth, to begin creating in the United States the psychological atmosphere conducive to normalization of relations, we should publicly acknowledge any improvement in Iran's human-rights behavior. We must no longer allow the hostage trauma to cloud our judgment on future relations. North Vietnam's and China's human-rights records are not much better than Iran's. This, of course, does not justify Iran's abuses. But we have rationalized dealing with China by saying that we have a greater possibility of influencing its behavior through dialogue and trade than economic sanctions. We have no reason to assume that Iran will be less responsive to such a policy than China is, especially since playing hardball with Iran has failed to produce the desired results.
Fifth, we should develop an Iranian strategy that will engage our allies. We simply cannot expect to pressure them to act against then* interests; Iran is too big a market to be ignored. The European Community looks to us for leadership, but we do not have a cohesive policy toward Iran with an endgame they can support. Rather we have unnecessarily placed our friends in a no-win situation, forcing them to chose between cooperation with us and the loss of a lucrative market. And there is no little hypocrisy in our stance; we have been buying Iranian oil through third parties for the past several years now. We must now articulate a new policy that our allies can embrace and that will strengthen rather than weaken, the partnership between America and Europe.
Sixth, although we would naturally prefer that Iran support our strategic objectives in the Middle East, especially the Arab-Israeli peace process, we need to be aware that its opposition is tactical, not strategic. Privately, Iranian officials accept Israel's existence as a reality and view the Arab-Israeli peace process as inevitable. Syrian officials attest that Iran keenly appreciates Syria's strategic choice to make peace with Israel. Iran's clergy also understands that their involvement in Lebanon through their surrogate Hezbollah is of limited duration once a peace agreement between Israel and Syria has been achieved. In his opening remarks at the annual GCC meeting in Muscat, Oman's Sultan Qaboos said that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) would continue to back the Middle East peace process to achieve stability and security in the area. As a regional power, Iran will eventually subscribe to the process if it does not want to be treated as an outcast in Gulf affairs.
Another important consideration that must enter the U.S. strategic calculus is whether the security of U.S. allies in the Gulf-Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman-is strengthened or undermined by the policy of containment. As long as Iran and Iraq remain capable of intimidating if not threatening them, none of them feel safe. Some, including Oman and Qatar, even feel compelled to normalize relations with Iran to reduce the pressure.
Since 1993, GCC countries have been discussing ways to integrate their defense systems. During the December 1995 GCC meeting in Muscat, Saudi Crown Price Abdullah, who led his country's delegation in the absence of King Fahd, called for the formation of an effective Gulf Arab force able to deter enemies. "It has become clear to Gulf Arab states," he said, "that they are facing a joint security question because they are targeted by some lurking enemies [Iran and Iraq]." "The only method to confront these challenges," the Crown Prince continued, "is by collecting [GCC] human, economic, political and military resources to form in totality a single effective force." Obviously, Saudi Arabia, like the other Gulf states is extremely concerned with the unpredictable behavior of Iran and Iraq. The establishment of a joint military force, therefore, would provide a critical deterrent and stifle to some extent Iranian criticism of the Gulf states for their reliance on foreign troops for protection, which the Iranians claim is the source of instability and tension in the region.
As they move toward post-Gulf-War military integration in response to external threats, however, some GCC members are also being confronted with an internal threat. Shiite opposition in Bahrain recently erupted into violence, killing 16 people, while in Saudi Arabia a car bomb struck at the heart of the security establishment, killing seven, including five Americans. Whether or not these incidents are related to the presence of American forces, the Gulf States translate-by association-the adversarial relations between the United States and Iran into adversarial relations between Iran and U.S. Gulf allies. Therefore, regional cohesion will not be created, nor tension relax, unless U.S.-Iran relations change both in content and strategic direction.
Obviously, we have been unable to resolve our conflict with Iran by pursuing a policy of containment and sanctions. It might succeed in another place at another time, but not against a proud country like Iran, which literally sees itself at the center of the universe.
The interests of the United States and Iran in the Gulf are not mutually exclusive. Iran must come to terms with America's vital interests in the Gulf, and the United States must recognize Iran's hegemony and special role in the region. As the undisputed leader of the world, America can afford to initiate a new policy toward Iran without being accused of appeasement.
Given that regional stability is critical to American interests, what is needed, then, is a new American strategy free of recrimination and resentment, based on the principle of quid pro quo, in which Iran develops a vested interest. It should be a strategy that can serve U.S. national interests and at the same time allow Iran to "redeem" itself without humiliation. Only such a strategy would encourage Iran to choose cooperation and conformity to international norms of conduct as a strategic choices.
IRAQ: THE EMBATTLED ENEMY
The other object of the containment policy presents a contrasting challenge to U.S. policy makers. A close examination of the political and economic conditions in Iraq reveals that U.S. containment and U.N. sanctions have proven inadequate to bringing about the desired changes. Simply put, U.S. strategy in Iraq appears to rest primarily on the ouster of Saddam Hussein. If there were a specific plan to make this happen, then one would have to conclude that, at best, the plan has not worked, and that, at worst, it may have backfired. If the United States is primarily relying on U.N. sanctions to achieve its objective, the emerging picture from Iraq reveals injury to the Iraqi people but no clear indication that Saddam Hussein has become more vulnerable politically. In fact, millions of Iraqis have become apathetic, even numb, and no longer believe that a resolution to their dire economic plight is in the offing. Although many blame their president for their afflictions, since no one has succeeded in removing him, they find other culprits on whom to heap the blame. Not surprisingly, they tend to echo Saddam's line, accusing the United States of cruelty for insisting on maintaining the sanctions. They also charge the Arab states with indifference and ineptitude for remaining silent about their suffering and point their fingers disdainfully at the ineffective Iraqi opposition groups. To date, none has been able to create the united front that could mount a real challenge to Saddam.
The presidential election of November 1995, in which President Saddam Hussein won 99 percent of the vote, offered a telling insight into his power base and political stamina. The result of the elections is, of course, not surprising since there was no other candidate. The mere fact, however, that he was able to mobilize the necessary political apparatus in every voting station throughout Iraq speaks volumes about his entrenchment and the Baath party's discipline and reach. Another important fact to note is that even after five years of economic hardship, many Iraqis still prize Saddam Hussein as the leader who advanced Iraq into the twenty-first century. Saddam expanded the middle class by pushing the Iraqi economy and made it the fastest-growing in the Arab world. He instituted comprehensive health and welfare systems while building a formidable army, at least by local standards. Even though most of these achievements evaporated with the Gulf War, the memories linger. It should not be surprising to learn that there is still a strong constituency guided by the Baath party that genuinely believes Saddam can still pull his country out of its current trough.
THE LIMITED EFFECTS OF THE SANCTIONS
U.S. containment and U.N. sanctions have brought enormous economic and political pressure to bear on Iraq. The policy has succeeded in intensifying the deadly internal rivalry for power. It has demoralized the military and accelerated the desertion rate. More than two million Iraqis have already left the country for places like England, Canada, Iran and even Romania in order to escape hardship and uncertainty. More alarmingly, the sanctions have precipitated massive economic dislocations including the collapse of private income, the skyrocketing of food prices and the depletion of personal assets. This economic distress is forcing many people, mostly women and children, into the streets of Baghdad to beg for help. According to Dr. Mary Smith Fawzi, a researcher at the Harvard University School of Public Health, who conducted a survey a few months ago on behalf of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, prefamine conditions exist in Iraq, with no relief in sight. Nearly 600,000 children have died from malnutrition since the end of Gulf War in 1991, and hundreds of thousands more are at risk if conditions do not change dramatically. The sanctions have, in fact, reduced Iraq to the level of some underdeveloped countries, with substandard weight rates among children comparable to those in Ghana or Mali. None of this, however, seems to pose a serious threat to Saddam's hold on power. On two occasions the U.N. Security Council offered Iraq the opportunity to sell $2 billion worth of oil to purchase food and medicines under U.N. supervision. Iraq flatly rejected both offers as an infringement of its sovereignty. In early February, talks between Iraq and the United Nations on allowing Iraq to sell $2 billion worth of oil to buy desperately needed food and medicine may culminate in an agreement. The resultant relief, however, would not change the long-term economic problems of the Iraqi people but would certainly strengthen Saddam Hussein's position. The Iraqi dictator is not moved by the plight of his own people.
Although there may very well be an ongoing power struggle within the immediate ruling family and clan, as revealed by the defection of Saddam Hussein's two sons-in-law, the Iraqi people seem resigned to a reality they feel they cannot change. It is not likely that a popular resistance movement will rise any time soon.
In light of this appalling state of affairs in Iraq and because the Clinton administration will clearly resist lifting the sanctions so long as Saddam remains in power, the United States needs to increase the pressure on the Iraqi government to bring about urgently needed relief to the Iraqi people. Maintaining the current policy is fraught with greater risks and could play itself out in a number of ways, all with unpredictable, and some with ominous, consequences. Although many Iraqis believe that a strong sense of Iraqi nationalism has emerged during the more than two decades of Saddam's rule, Iraq remains a country of multiple ethnic and religious communities, clans, tribes and other subgroups. If left unchecked, the present situation could explode into a blood bath, bringing Iraq to the brink of anarchy. And the threat of anarchy will surely encourage the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south (with the support of Iran) to exploit the situation to their own advantage. It is not unreasonable to suggest that with enough pressure, Iraq might split into three parts. However, the greatest danger in such a scenario is that Iran might come to dominate an Islamist state carved out of southern Iraq. In any event, Iraq as we know it would disintegrate, a circumstance that could have serious repercussions on regional stability and threaten U.S. strategic interests in the area.
As economic conditions hi Iraq deteriorate further, it is not unreasonable to imagine that a desperate Saddam might lash out against his "enemies," Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. At a minimum, he could choose to intimidate their regimes with the express purpose of destabilizing the political situation in the region. The on-and-off Iraqi military movements toward Kuwait, at times involving the elite guards and air-defense units, certainly point to such a possibility. A beleaguered Saddam might calculate that he had little to lose. Provoking the United States into a limited military confrontation could rally the Iraqi people against "American aggression," and at least temporarily deflect then* attention from their immediate plight while arousing international concern about their dire economic situation.
Finally, fearing the consequences of an outright military action in the face of U.S. readiness and willingness to act, Saddam Hussein might opt instead to send hit squads or use radical Palestinians to retaliate against Kuwait, Saudi Arabia or even Jordan. This, too, could complicate matters for the United States and possibly draw Israel into the conflict. Israel has national security interests in Jordan's stability and might be provoked into trying to settle old scores for Iraq's missile attacks on Israel during the Gulf War.
In spite of Saddam Hussein's growing isolation and weakened grip on power, he is not likely to step down on his own. He has weathered many storms in the past and may also ride this one out. The Iraqi government continues to devote any and all available money to staying in power. Even under the present harsh economic conditions, President Hussein still spends 35-45 percent of his GNP on his military forces and internal security. Moreover, he has in place one of the world's most sophisticated personal-protection apparatuses consisting of overlapping security rings extremely difficult to penetrate under any circumstances. Although Saddam has been unable to replace most of the heavy equipment lost in the Gulf War, and even though the aging of his arsenals has sub-stantially reduced his ability to project Iraqi military power for a prolonged period of time, he still commands a military force powerful enough to overrun Kuwait again, to seriously threaten Saudi Arabia, and certainly to quell any open opposition from within.
The continuation of the U.S. policy of containment and the enforcement of U.N. sanctions have brought the Iraqi people, not their government to their knees and could destroy what is left of Iraq's social fabric and economic base. For this reason, while the United States continues to pursue its strategy of containment, it must also continue to pursue vigorously a strategy that will lead to Saddam Hussein's removal or resignation. Indeed, the United States in par-ticular has the moral responsibility to end the tragic suffering of the Iraqi people. It can do so only if Saddam Hussein is out of the political picture.
A NEW STRATEGY
The United States must now develop an Iraq strategy with its Arab and European allies that would not only bring about the ouster of the Iraqi ruler and offer relief to the Iraqi people, but help in shaping events in Baghdad to insure political stability and economic progress. Only such a strategy would allay the concerns of many of the Gulf leaders. Most hate Saddam but prefer to maintain the status quo rather than confront him again or deal with a new leader in Baghdad.
The use of military force to remove Saddam should not be ruled out. It is true that the United States does not desire and should not get into a quagmire in Iraq, and there is no guarantee that an internal replacement to Saddam would be any better or that Saddam could even be located for removal. Still, a military operation may ultimately be necessary should everything else fail. And as the United States weighs the possibility of using force, it should in any case prepare the way for Saddam's departure. The following five steps are indicated:
First, the United States should take an active role, albeit behind the scenes, to organize the leadership of Iraqi exile groups as a cohesive opposition to Saddam's rule. Although there is a nominal Iraqi National Congress (INC) that purports to be the umbrella organization embracing all of Iraq's opposition groups, many of its leaders in Syria, Turkey, Jordan and London often work at cross purposes. They must be persuaded to work in concert to establish a common agenda and develop the framework for a governing authority. The United States should not seek nor publicly endorse any particular Iraqi leader but must instead focus on those who have a verifiable constituency in Iraq. Without direct U.S. involvement, commitment and support, it is unlikely that much will come out of the INC, especially since the Shiites and the Kurds (in particular) still remember how they were abandoned by the United States after being encouraged to rise against Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. Nevertheless, only the United States still has the clout and the credibility to involve itself in Iraqi oppositional politics and achieve concrete results. The successful U.S. mediation efforts that ended the bloody Iraqi Kurdish fighting between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) offer a hopeful sign to the unruly Iraqi groups and the possibility of finding common cause.
Second, once such a coherent body is created, the United States must encourage the establishment of an Iraqi "government in exile," a transitional governing authority. Jordan's King Hussein has offered to be the host to Iraqi opposition leaders preparing for the establishment of an Iraqi government in exile. Lees Kobba, a leading Iraqi Shiite opposition figure based in London, welcomed the king's initiative. He and many other Iraqi personalities expressed the hope that Jordan would sponsor an Iraqi administration that operates from Amman until the ouster or resignation of Saddam. Although Saudi Arabia was not enthusiastic about the idea, it appears that King Fahd may find the idea more appealing as the first gathering of Iraqi opposition leaders takes place.
The Iraqi government-in-exile should consist of economists, educators, scientists, engineers and politicians entrusted with the task of establishing the framework of free institutions and laying the foundation for a pluralist Iraqi society. The focus of their work must be the development of democratic rule and guarantees of human rights. By its own terms of reference, this governing authority must be transitional and it must commit itself publicly to holding general elections within one year of gaining power. As a part of its national agenda the government-in-exile must also develop a framework for a permanent so-lution to the Kurdish problem consistent with self-rule.
Third, with the information obtained from General Hussein Kamel and other intelligence gathered as a result of and since his defection, the United States, in concert with its allies, is in a much better position to intensify covert activities against Saddam Hussein. However, given Saddam's record of survival and ability to take unusual measures to ensure his personal security, overthrowing him will prove to be extremely difficult. Indeed, any serious threat to Saddam must come from those who are close to him; only after he is weakened could a popular revolt ensue. Vice President Al Gore has been calling for Saddam's deliberate overthrow, and the Republican Congress would certainly support a covert plan in that direction.
In this connection, in order to encourage a popular uprising or a military coup, the United States should make it clear to the Iraqi people that as soon as a newly elected government is installed, U.N. sanctions would end. Moreover, the United States would also promise to lighten Iraq's payments of war reparations and might even help Iraq reschedule its national debts until the Iraqi economy became solvent again. By the same token, the Iraqi public should also know the administration's true sentiments-that notwithstanding Saddam's compliance with some of the U.N. resolutions, the United States does not intend to support the lifting of U.N. economic sanctions as long as he remains in power.
Fourth, whereas U.S. efforts to persuade Jordan to sever most of its economic ties to Iraq would put more pressure on Baghdad, there are limits. King Hussein's acquiescence would certainly plug Iraq's only outlet and consolidate the anti-Saddam front, but it could also jeopardize the king's position at home. Most Jordanians do not want to add to the suffering of the Iraqi people and would insist on the continuation of food and medicine shipments. The Gulf states have not, as yet, forgiven the Jordanian monarch for his support of Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. Much of Jordan's exports are still tied to Iraq; the Saudis have not committed themselves to replacing Iraq's oil shipments to Jordan at a reduced price. For these reasons Jordan's role must be played cautiously. Rocking the Hashemite Kingdom in order to oust the Iraqi dictator is hardly a sound policy, especially since it could also drag Israel into the conflict.
Finally, since cornering Saddam Hussein could force him to act irrationally and, given past experience, even dangerously, the United States, in concert with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, might also find a country that would offer him political asylum should he resign voluntarily. Providing the Iraqi despot and his family a way out might at one point be very appealing for him, as a last resort. Saddam Hussein will fight to the bitter end, or to the last Iraqi, but not if his personal safety is at stake. Offering him a refuge in an Arab or Muslim country could also prevent potentially bloody civil strife. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has already offered Saddam political refuge. The United States should vigorously pursue these possibilities, which could at some point offer the Iraqi a way out in the face of much worse alternatives.
Only simultaneous pursuit of such a strategy with the support of Arab and European allies could yield the desired results. By concerted action, the United States and all other interested parties might persuade the Iraqi ruler that the only peaceful way out is to leave of his own volition. Otherwise, he will have to face the wrath of the Iraqi people.