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Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 2002 / 21 Tishrei, 5763

David Silverberg

David Silverberg
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The world after Saddam Hussein | Let us presume that an American attack on Iraq succeeds as planned. What will the post-war world look like?

There are already debates about the effect of the war on the price of oil. If the United States is victorious, there's a good chance the price of oil will drop precipitously as previously bottled-up Iraqi oil floods the world markets.

This has its own dangers: A severe fall in oil prices could undermine the stability and economies of American allies like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The reverse is also possible: Oil prices might go very high and Saddam Hussein might pull the kind of stunt he did in Kuwait, destroying wells rather than allowing the enemy to possess them.

In either event, the likelihood is that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) would try to stabilize oil prices, and they might do so within six months or a year of the war - after all, no one has a greater stake in a stable oil market than OPEC.

The Middle East would not automatically be a tranquil place - it never has been. But a major source of danger and instability would have been removed. In place of Saddam's fearsome Iraq would likely be a weakened, federalized Baghdad pulling together largely autonomous Kurdish, Turkoman and Shiite areas. It would be a fragile democracy like the one in Afghanistan.

This has its own dangers: It would remove a major impediment to Iranian power and there's always the possibility that the Iranian mullahs would try to extend the Shiite revolution to the eastern part of Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, Iran itself has been pursuing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the means to deliver them. It must be said: Iran would be a big winner, losing a major source of danger on its western border, although it would have to contend with a much more powerful United States firmly ensconced to both its east and west.

There's a great deal of talk about U.S. forces having to occupy Iraq for a long period of time and no doubt some form of occupation would be necessary - in the same way that a small U.S. force is stationed in Afghanistan.

It's not occupation that would be the long-term concern of the United States, however - it's engagement. The United States would have to ensure the viability of the new Iraqi government and its component states and ensure that Iran didn't subvert the new Iraqi government. It would be a task requiring subtlety, diplomacy and a very long-term commitment.

The effect of the war on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very difficult to predict. If sufficiently provoked, Israel might take its own action against Iraq, leading all the Arab states - and certainly their populations - to mobilize against it, although direct anti-Israel military action is very unlikely. However, if the war is swift and successful and Israel does not get involved, the fall of Saddam Hussein might kick a major support for Palestinian terrorism out of the equation and could even open up some possibilities for new negotiation. Solving the Israeli-Palestinian question, though, is really in the hands of Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat, not George Bush or Saddam Hussein.

Terrorism will not be at an end. In fact, the United States will be of such overwhelming power that anyone discontented with the existing state of affairs will have to find new ways to assault Americans. However, the most likely and sophisticated source of WMD outside the international order will have been eliminated. (Russia, China, North Korea and countries like Libya may also have some mass destruction capabilities, but even if Muammar Qaddafi is included, none of them are as unstable, unpredictable or dangerous as Saddam Hussein, nor do they share his legacy of impulsive aggression.) Terrorist actions will be much more limited, probably more conventional and getting WMD materials will be much more difficult.

Most of all, a successful war against Iraq would help "dry up the swamp" that breeds terrorism, or at least a major portion of it.

The ironies here are rich: An American victory over Iraq will help achieve the exact opposite of what Osama bin Laden sought to accomplish. Far from running away from the region and pulling out of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, the United States would be the dominant power throughout the Middle East with troops stationed in all the countries around the rim of Afghanistan, in Afghanistan itself, in Iraq and in every country bordering the Persian Gulf with the exception of Iran.

America would truly be a colossus and the Middle East would experience - if not enjoy - a true pax Americana.

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JWR contributor David Silverberg is managing editor of The Hill. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, David Silverberg