- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

The Persian Gulf War is finally winding down, a full decade after George H.W. Bush — ol No. 41 — thought he had popped Saddam Hussein a really stout one on the snout. Saddam, as it now turns out, won.
This was probably inevitable in the life of a man who sits on the worlds largest single lake of crude oil, when everybody in the West wants to drive an SUV over the hill and through the vale to Grandmas house. All Saddam has to do now to make his victory complete is to march back into Kuwait. Does anyone seriously believe the West could collect its wits, its planes, its tanks and its resolve to do anything about it next time?
Dick Cheney sent another signal Sunday when he told NBC-TVs talk-show interlocutors that its "uncertain" whether the easing of the United Nations Swiss-cheese sanctions would require the return of the inspectors Saddam kicked out at the end of the last millennium.
The United States, the veep said, "would continue to demand inspections," but suggested that Washington wouldnt do anything about it if Saddam continues to give George W. and the West his middle finger. This is essentially the same thing Mr. Cheney told editors and reporters of The Washington Times at a luncheon interview on March 2. On that occasion, his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, called us a few hours later to say that the veep hadnt meant to say the inspectors were "unimportant." It was just that they were not very important. "We expect the Iraqis to live up to all the United Nations resolutions, including getting the inspectors back," Mr. Libby said. But these were just not necessarily Great Expectations.
This time, there was no call-back. Whats important now, the veep says, is "focusing on the military aspects … and retargeting the sanctions on the important [weapons] technologies and capabilities crucial here." No one asked him how that could be done without inspectors on the ground in Iraq.
The trouble with the sanctions, the veep says, is that "many of our friends in the region" are unhappy with the sanctions and friends dont let friends drive dictators to frustration, not if the dictators are sitting on lakes of crude oil. This begs the question of who the friends are in the region, and whether these are "friendships" that can be counted on when inconvenience comes to call. Such friends are perfectly willing to let American blood bail them out when the ground shakes, the wind blows and the rain falls, but when the sun comes out, theyre all too busy stuffing their faces with sausages, cheese and sheeps eyes to be friends anyone could count on.
Its sad to see a straight shooter like Dick Cheney squirm and make tortured arguments that nobody can take at face value. He cant say whats perfectly obvious, that Saddam Hussein rides in the catbird seat because he has all that oil. Americas allies, less one or two honorable exceptions, will always flinch, cut and run at the first sign of inconvenience. They always have. The Bush administration, as any prudent administration would be, is terrified at the remembrance of what happened to Jimmy Carter.
"Americas friends," in the perfumed phrase of the hour, dress their concerns about Iraqi sanctions in terms of solicitude for Iraqi civilians, and it would be nice if that were true, and maybe occasionally it is. But softening the sanctions, to allow the importation of food and medicines, is meant to be only the first step toward lifting sanctions entirely. Pills today, missiles tomorrow.
Maybe the sanctions were never such a good idea, but thats not what we were told only yesterday when we were marched up the hill in preparation for being marched down again. Were told one day that Saddam is the personification of evil, that his evil will not stand, that sanctions are absolutely, positively, unequivocally and unconditionally necessary. The day after that were told that well, yes, thats true, but not necessarily.
Colin Powell was the first to put out the line that sanctions were crucial, but not necessarily important, only a week after he said they were both crucial and important. The administration corrected him, more or less, and the secretary of state got a pass because he said it on his first trip to the Middle East, and was thought easily seduced. But now it looks like the man whose timidity saved Saddam from destruction a decade ago, and who listens closest to apologists for the villains in the Middle East, has prevailed.
The U.N. Security Council will take up the Iraqi sanctions next week, and the United States will, in Mr. Cheneys words, "continue to demand inspections." But he suggested that the United States would take whatever Saddam offers, which will be scorn and contempt. Who could blame him?


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