- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Few things, surely, would give Saddam Hussein greater pleasure than knowing the contortions we go through here in Washington to formulate a coherent approach towards his country unless it be plotting the murder of a disfavored son-in-law or the beheading of a dozen of his countrymen before breakfast. We are now on the second Bush administration with two Clinton terms in between. We have tried sanctions, inspections, containment, internal and external pressure in fact we have tried war itself and still Saddam grins mockingly at us from his lair in Baghdad. Perhaps the problem is that we have not tried any of these hard enough to destroy this awful little man.
One certainly hopes that our problematic Iraq policy has not increased the job stress that could be a factor in Vice President Richard Cheney's hospitalization with heart trouble this week. As defense secretary, Mr. Cheney did his bit to create the strategy that drove Saddam out of Kuwait a decade ago, setting up an alternative planning staff that wrote the attack plan and circumvented the adamantly opposed chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell. Who is in charge of the policy today is rather unclear, however.
Meeting with editors and reporters of The Washington Times on Friday, Mr. Cheney talked about a policy under review. Secretary of State Powell went through the Middle East and Europe looking for answer, and "it was important for his trip to go out and talk to everybody in the region, which he's done, as well as some of our European allies." Mr. Cheney spoke of finding a way to rebuild the Gulf War cohesion and gain "the support of the front line states out there, as well as the other major members of the coalition."
As of this moment, coalition rebuilding seems to mean modifying the sanctions regime against Iraq and perhaps the demand for inspections as well. Mr. Cheney suggested as much in our interview when he said that, "I don't think we want to hinge our policy just to the question of whether or not the inspectors go back in there." Interesting, the State Department vigorously disagreed. According to spokesman Richard Boucher, "If Iraq wants to get out of the box, they're going to have to invite the inspectors and comply with the U.N. resolutions." Hmmm. Which is it? Actually, the crux of the matter lies in the meaning of "sanctions." (Sorry to sound Clintonian.)
On one point the administration clearly agrees with itself that the current sanctions regime has collapsed. As Mr. Cheney pointed out, "The Chinese have been in there with fiber optic cables for the air defense network. The Syrians opened up the pipeline, selling oil … with the cash going back directly to the Iraqis, not going through the U.N. escrow account. You've got flights going in there now."
Complicating the task of reconstructing the Gulf War coalition is the fact that the Arabs countries hate the Iraqi sanctions regime and what it does to Iraq's children (though we might contend that Saddam Hussein is the real plague on his people). Another important fact is that Saddam is now setting himself up as the alleged protector of the Palestinians in Israel, a cause all Arab countries can rally around. The two issues have by now become all but inseparable, according to Mr. Cheney.
So, while the difficulty of producing a coherent sanctions policy ought not be underestimated, the question is whether the recently floated option of "smart sanctions" is the way to go. Mr. Powell appears wedded to the idea, and in a press conference yesterday with Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, talked about the pressure he had encountered from Arab leaders "to modify the sanctions so their effect is reduced on the Iraqi people and strengthened as regards anything else that could contribute to the production or development of weapons of mass destruction."
A couple of thoughts on "smart sanctions" if that is the way we are headed: A broad sanctions regime is undoubtedly easier to enforce than a highly selective one. In one case, you block the point of entry, Iraq; in the other, the point of export, which will be any country willing to sell the goods.
Secondly, "smart sanctions" will be a concession to Saddam Hussein, an easing of the noose around Iraq (tattered though it might be). As best can be told, Saddam will not be asked to give anything in return for this favor.
And finally for heaven's sake does anyone realize this is the policy proposed by the French government in January 1999? In a formal break with the United States and Britain, the French proposed that the U.N. Security Council lift the oil embargo on Iraq and institute a new weapons monitoring system to prevent Saddam Hussein from rearming. The idea was huffily rejected by the Clinton and Blair governments, but under the Republican administration, which promised a harder line, this may now become U.S. policy. Fascinating.
Considering the relatively soft line taken by Mr. Powell on the Palestinian problem during his Middle East trip, urging Israel to open check points and release tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, we seem indeed to be falling more and more in line with French thinking. Next, will the United States be making oil deals with Iraq? We could even veto our own resolutions in the Security Council. Who knows? No one at this time, that much is clear.



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