- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

George W. Bush has long noted the breakdown of the international coalition his father assembled to fight the 1991 Gulf War. Today, it is clear that Mr. Bush's words did more than accurately describe the status quo. They were also prophetic. The collapse of U.S. influence in the Middle East would have been difficult to predict some months ago. Since the foundering of Camp David negotiations, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has gained unprecedented regional influence.

President Bill Clinton has often been praised for his push for peace in the Middle East. But his efforts to broker negotiations were ineffective, given the degradation of U.S. leadership in the region. An Israeli-Palestinian peace can't be achieved independently from the rest of the Middle East.

Sadly for both the United States and Israel, it seems almost inconceivable today that the United States would be able to reassemble the 30-member Gulf War coalition, which included Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and even Syria. Saddam has recently gained the type of fame a homicidal despot scarcely deserves. For the first time since the Gulf War, Iraq was invited to an Arab League summit in October. And Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, for example, have all resumed diplomatic relations with Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the Clinton-Gore administration has led a poll-oriented approach to foreign policy. In Iraq, the White House has depended solely on "containment." Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore have given the Iraqi opposition disingenuous rhetorical support, while all the while foiling congressional efforts to strengthen Iraqi dissidents militarily. The White House has released only a minuscule portion of the $97 million that Congress appropriated for the Iraqi opposition and has approved funds for strictly "non-lethal" expenses, such as fax and copy machines.

The sanctions regime Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore have overwhelmingly depended on was intended to be short-term. A combination of these sanctions, the aftermath of the Gulf War, and Saddam Hussein's alarming brutality has generated colossal human suffering in that country. The most vulnerable Iraqis suffer most. UNESCO estimates that 500,000 children have died in the past 10 years, partly as a result of malnutrition, poor sanitation and lack of medical services.

In geopolitical terms, the United States has rarely needed a change of the guard so urgently. America deserves a leader prepared to definitively resolve the Saddam problem. The poll-pleasers at the White House couldn't vacate the residence soon enough.

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