All Writings
August 21, 1999

Inspections Rather Than Maintaining Sanctions

Economic sanctions against Iraq are no longer working. It is time for the United States to agree to replace them with a new strategy that will rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein, alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people, and bolster our strategic interests in the Gulf.

The danger of having no United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) to search and destroy all weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq far outweighs the benefits that Saddam Hussein may derive from our lifting the sanctions. We must lift the economic sanctions, provided that he agrees to restore UNSCOM inspectors or to a similar arrangement (he has said he would), pay a specific amount (to be determined by the UN Security Council) on a monthly basis to the war reparation compensation fund, and agree not to challenge the no-fly-zone. Meanwhile, we need to develop a long-term strategy designed to squeeze him out of power while enhancing U.S. strategic interests in the Gulf.

Our insistence on maintaining sanctions until Iraq is declared free of WMD, and until we bring about Saddam Hussein's ouster, is no longer a viable policy, if, indeed, it has ever been. Although nine years of sanctions have severely undermined Iraq's economy and crippled its health services, they have not had their desired effect. Rather, the Iraqi leader has kept his people deliberately hungry because this arouses such strong sympathies in the Arab world and elsewhere. I say "deliberately" because U N. resolution 986 authorizes Iraq to sell $5.26 billion in oil every six months. Even though 30 percent of the proceeds is deducted for the Reparation Compensation Fund, the remaining 70 percent is allotted for food and medicine, more than enough to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people if supplies are efficiently and equitably distributed. In addition, Mr. Hussein has had ample opportunity to divert other resources from unauthorized trade and the sale of oil in pursuit of his own agenda.

The ineffectiveness of our policy is illustrated by our response to Iraqi provocations in the no-fly-zone in northern and southern Iraq. U.S. and British pilots have for the past nine months attacked nearly 400 targets and fired more than 1,200 missiles in Iraq, about two-thirds the number of missions that NATO flew this spring over Yugoslavia. But Mr. Hussein remains defiant. Through a combination of his people's resiliency and ingenuity to rebuild and his own audacity, Iraq continues to persevere. In sum, there appears to be no end in sight to the war and to the embarrassment of the Clinton Administration.

The result is that Saddam Hussien is as entrenched in power as ever. His defiance of the United States is legendary to millions of Arabs. His stature is in fact rising in the Arab world; Iraq, for example, will chair the next Arab League meeting of Foreign Ministers in Cairo. Moreover, in the absence of UNSCOM, he is free to pursue his WMD program with little or no interference.

Keeping the sanctions in place only provides him with the excuse he needs to use his own people as pawns in his battle to survive. Meanwhile, the sanctions no longer have the full support of all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; the Western Community is divided over them, pitting France in particular against the United States, and there is a unified outcry from the Arab States to lift them. Scores of countries, including India, Belarus, France, Russia, and China, to name but a few, are standing in line to do business with Iraq. Removal of the sanctions will alter the situation dramatically in a way that will allow the United States to focus on a long-term strategy that must include the following measures:

To oust Saddam Hussein we have to strengthen our position in the Gulf, and to do that we must first improve our relations with Iran. Although abandoning our policy of containing Iran is critically important in and of itself to U.S. strategic interests in the Gulf, it is also key to our strategy to undermine his power. Notwithstanding the hardliners on both sides, here and in Iran, who have thus far torpedoed any meaningful dialogue between the two governments, we have to abandon our policy of containing Iran and replace it with a policy of active engagement. Similarly, we have to normalize relations with Syria, starting with the removal of Syria's name from the Department of State's list of countries that sponsor terrorism. The normalization of our relations with Syria and Iran will complete the encirclement of Saddam Hussein by countries friendly to the U.S.–Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait.

In addition, we need to extend full logistical and monetary support along with political organizational expertise to Iraqi opposition groups, especially the Iraqi National Congress. These groups should meet in Iraqi territory (probably in the Kurdish area in the north), under American protection and bolstered by our commitment not to abandon them in any circumstances. The question of whether the United States will deliver should the Iraqi people rise up against their leader looms high among the concerns of all Iraqi opposition groups. We need to provide concrete plans and assurances to alleviate their anxiety. Their past experiences with the United States have not been encouraging; hence their reluctance to throw caution to the wind.

These opposition groups should establish a transitional government with shadow ministries and be prepared to take over the reins in Bagdad. After assuming power they must commit themselves to hold free general elections within one year. Meanwhile, the Iraqi people need to be kept fully abreast of the existence of their shadow government through our information services, such as the Voice of America, augmented to communicate with far greater frequency and reach than at present. The impact of this campaign, if effectively projected, will be tremendous on Iraqi civilians and military alike. Finally, to avoid any misunderstanding, we should place Saddam Hussein and the international community on notice about how we will respond if he attacks any of our friends or allies or violates the Kurdish areas in the North or the Shiat areas in the South.

Sooner rather than later the United States must decide if it is not better and less dangerous for us and our allies in the region to resume inspections without the sanctions than to maintain the sanctions without inspections. The answer is clear, and I do not believe that time is on our side.