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Jewish World Review / March 1, 1998 / 3 Adar, 5758

Eric Breindel

Eric Breindel A Victory for Appeasement

IF THERE'S ANYTHING strange about negotiating with Iraq over the nature of the U.N. inspections regime, it consists in the mere fact that these discussions are taking place. This, of course, also applies to Secretary-General Kofi Annan's widely hailed mission to Baghdad.

After all, Iraq's decision Saddam Hussein to permit unfettered searches for mass destruction weaponry -- conducted by international experts under U.N. auspices -- wasn't voluntary. In fact, it represented Saddam's central concession in the cease-fire agreement that facilitated the end of the 1991 Gulf War. Absent Baghdad's acquiescence in unimpeded inspections, the ground war and the bombardment campaign that had been devastating Iraq would not have been brought to a halt.

In short, agreeing to nationwide searches for concealed weaponry is best viewed as the critical feature of a surrender instrument. (Economic sanctions, meanwhile, were -- and are -- meant to ensure Saddam's compliance.) In this light, the ongoing need to impose far-reaching sanctions -- save for in cases of humanitarian emergency -- underscores Iraq's continuing unwillingness to permit the unconditional access promised by Baghdad in 1991.

Sad to say, Iraqi non-compliance remains a genuine problem. On the issue of biological and chemical weapons, for example, Saddam's undertakings -- from day one -- have turned out to represent a tissue of lies. As a consequence, trusting Saddam -- from the inspectors' standpoint -- is even more of a non-starter than was the case seven years ago.

But the fact that the inspections grew out of what was, effectively, a surrender agreement is seldom noted -- not by the media and not even by the key offended parties (the United States and the United Nations) themselves.

It seems that the settlement just crafted by the secretary-general includes clauses concerning the need to "respect Iraq's dignity and sovereignty." Such phrases virtually invite Baghdad to halt the inspections -- either by resurrecting the claim that so-called "presidential sites" are off-limits or by demanding that the ostensibly condescending American inspectors be removed from the U.N. teams.

But violations of national "dignity" and "sovereignty" are inherent in a commitment to grant foreign inspectors unfettered access to suspicious sites. Indeed, it's hard to imagine any self-respecting state not finding it painful to adhere to such terms. And for a country like Iraq -- which aspires to pan-Arab leadership and places a high premium on national pride -- complying with an agreement of this sort creates an especially undignified circumstance.

But the best way to avoid such a result is uncomplicated: Refrain from initiating wars of aggression. Moreover, if Saddam can't restrain himself, he'd be wise to select appropriately weak targets. Alternatively, if Baghdad had confined itself to bellicose rhetoric -- aimed either at Kuwait or at Washington -- Saddam wouldn't now be governing a country subject to degrading external inspections while suffering under international sanctions.

Demagogy, however, didn't satisfy the Iraqi dictator's needs. Thus, in hurling his troops across the Kuwaiti frontier (where they indulged themselves in unspeakable crimes), while rejecting U.S. and U.N. withdrawal demands, Saddam brought his current plight upon himself.

As for the dubious character of the current negotiations, consider the notion of Japan -- early in the 1950s -- seeking and securing the renegotiation of key terms in the 1945 surrender instrument. How would the international community have reacted if -- notwithstanding the unconditional surrender signed on the deck of the USS Missouri -- the Japanese had insisted, say, on the withdrawal of American troops from Okinawa?

Any such "demand" would have been greeted with derision. Yet, when Iraq raises parallel issues -- by insisting on new quids for old quos -- much of the world rallies to Baghdad's standard. France and Russia may find themselves leading the pro-Saddam movement, but they are far from alone in backing Iraq.

What gave rise to the existing circumstances? It's easy to go back to 1991 and blame George Bush's Pentagon for failing to "finish" the war. Also inviting is the prospect of holding the Clinton administration accountable for its unwillingness to seize the moment a few years back and hit Saddam hard for violating the "no fly" zones.

But what's relevant is the crisis at hand. And fault for the current situation lies with Clinton's failure to exercise national leadership -- by telling the American people why the United States feels compelled to resort to force and by defining Washington's mission. Instead of working closely with the secretary-general (the U.S. appears to have helped Annan develop his negotiating points), Clinton might have done well to review the recent history of appeasement.

The president could have focused his energies on explaining that appeasement only whets the appetite -- and on pointing out that any military response to aggression is better than no response at all. America, Clinton might have noted, can't be certain of its ability to eliminate every concealed Iraqi weapons site. Still, a failure to use force in response to Saddam's continuing provocations would -- the president needs to explain -- undermine Washington's credibility altogether. The White House's decision to keep Clinton from making the speech in question has served to render Baghdad the winner in this diplomatic round.

Suffice it to say, however, that the final chapter has yet to be written.

2/22/98: Is the IRS targeting Clinton's foes?
2/15/98: Making the case for an attack on Iraq
2/8/98: Feminists' double standard on Bill Clinton
2/1/98: "With joy in my heart": greeting a killer
1/12/98: The Commies who couldn't spy straight
12/22/97: How did Larry Lawrence slip through?


©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.