- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2001

There was a joke going around Washington for a while that George W. Bush is a heartbeat away from the presidency. Well, Mr. Bush has moved smartly enough to deflect most of those unkind barbs, which imply that Vice President Dick Cheney is really the man in charge. Even so, no one doubts that Mr. Cheney is incredibly capable and does not go around making major policy statements by accident. On Sundays "Meet the Press," Mr. Cheney reiterated a policy shift on Iraq in characteristically sotto voce fashion to the effect that the current review of sanctions against Iraq may not depend on Saddam Husseins willingness to allow U.N. inspectors back in. Mr. Cheney first suggested that inspections may bite the desert dust for good in a March 2 interview with The Washington Times. Since then, every indication has been that Saddam has won the battle of the weapons inspections for good.
Is Saddam about to win on the sanctions front as well? It is well-known that sanctions as a foreign policy tool do not have much philosophical support in the Bush administration. It is certainly true that U.S. lawmakers have been too sanctions-happy with the result that we often harm both American businesses and American alliances. Sometimes, the imposition of sanctions can be a feel-good measure, substituting for real policy decisions. Sometimes sanctions are designed to placate a vociferous domestic ethnic constituency. Still, in the case of Iraq, theres national security and Middle East stability to be considered.
The administrations Iraq policy review focuses on the concept of "smart sanctions." Last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the administration wanted "to revise the sanctions policy so that it is directed exclusively at preventing Iraq from a military buildup and developing weapons of mass destruction and to do it in a way that does not hurt the people of Iraq, but just the regime in Baghdad." The administration has presented a memorandum to the other four permanent U.N. Security Council members Britain, France, Russia and China which seeks to restore international support for banning arms-related materials. Some of the measures are also reflected in a British Security Council draft resolution presented on Monday, in time for the six-month renewal of the U.N. oil-for-food program on June 4. (This is currently the only legal means by which Saddam can sell oil on the world market, in exchange for U.N. supervised imports of food and medicine.)
The argument, reasonable enough in some ways, is that the existing U.N. sanctions regime is unfortunately useless and undeniably leaks like a sieve. It provides Saddam with untold millions in illegal, smuggled oil exports through Turkey, Syria and Jordan and causes him to win the public relations battle to boot. An alternative has to be found. The big problem with the concept of smart sanctions, says Ahmad Chalabi, head of the opposition coalition Iraqi National Congress (INC), is that "all border countries have denied they will agree to inspections on the border." Mr. Chalabis group is based in London, but it represents groups in Iraq of many ethnic and religious backgrounds, who come together in opposition to Iraqs dictatorship.
One reason for the hesitation among Iraqs neighbors is that Baghdad has threatened to cut off all flows of oil through Turkey, Syria and Jordan should they agree to cooperate. This would have devastating economic consequences for the countries involved. For instance, Turkeys foreign minister, Ismail Cem, told The Washington Post on March 30 that "if a revised sanctions plan being finalized by the United States proposes that international monitors be stationed on Turkish soil, Turkey could not accept it." They would have to be placed on the Iraqi side of the border. In any event Mr. Cem said, "the U.S. proposal would have to be subject to U.N. and Iraqi approval." Not a likely prospect. Meanwhile in Jordan, which is set to start a major oil pipeline project with Iraq next year, Minister of Trade and Industry Wasif Azar says that Jordan refuses any new sanctions against Iraq, according to Agence France Presse. Syria, for its part, is seeking to establish a bilateral free-trade agreement with Iraq, setting up an interest section in Baghdad and this week dispatched its most high-level political and business delegation to Iraq in over 20 years. Syrian officials tell the Arab press they have no intention of cooperating on smart sanctions. To overcome this problem, reported The Washington Post yesterday, the White House has come up with the idea of a World Bank program for countries suffering from smart-sanctions sticker shock.
Additionally, the inevitable squabbling over the list of "dual use" items with both military and civilian application will surely break out before long. In the view of the INCs Ahmad Chalabi, "smart sanctions will speed up Iraqs nuclear program," triggering an Iran-Iraq arms race and a massive destabilization of the Middle East. Fortunately, the administration is not of one mind on smart sanctions, and there is dissatisfaction among the major players with the options so far on the table. Smart sanctions need to be rethought. One might even agree with the Iraqis, who call them "dumb sanctions."
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