- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Surely the Bush administration understands that Saddam Hussein is dangerous to his own people and to his neighbors. And yet the White House is rushing forward an Iraq policy that could well self-destruct, giving Saddam the means to carry out his military intentions.

The United States and Britain are proposing a plan to ease sanctions on civilian goods to Iraq while keeping in place a ban on military equipment. Under this plan, the United Nations would still monitor how Iraq uses its oil exports by overseeing an existing escrow account that is used to buy imported goods. But the main problem with the proposal is that its success depends on the cooperation of the countries that border Iraq. And while Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are U.S. allies that would presumably comply with such a weapons ban, Syria´s unreliability is virtually a foregone conclusion.

This is not to say that the current sanctions regime is anywhere near foolproof. President Bush has aptly described it as cottage cheese, and Saddam has been able to smuggle out large amounts of oil in order to skirt U.N. supervision of its oil proceeds. And if oil is getting out, then weapons and other imports can surely be brought in.

Saddam has also been able to exploit the sanctions on a public relations level, casting the United States as a villain perpetuating the suffering of the Iraqi people. This public relations coup has been invaluable to Saddam, which may be why his regime is panicking at the prospect of any change. Very revealingly, Iraq Monday threatened to discontinue selling its oil under the current oil-for-food program if the United States and Britain relax the sanctions on civilian goods. This prospect would surely alarm policy-makers around the world, since it would send oil prices even higher.

But all these conflicting considerations underscore a crucial point: Saddam should be gotten rid of. While the White House maintains that it is trying to improve humanitarian conditions by easing sanctions, the lot of the Iraqi people won´t be significantly improved until Saddam is unseated. Saddam is emboldened by keeping his people weak and repressed. In addition, the neighborhood simply isn´t safe with this type of dictator at the helm, and a change to a less violent regime could have a profoundly positive impact on the region.

It would seem the White House ought to be keenly aware of the need for regime change in Iraq. After all, in a January 1998 letter several high-ranking members of the administration, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of State John Bolton, called on then-President Clinton to support the Iraqi opposition. "Although we are fully aware of the dangers and difficulties in implementing we believe the dangers of failing to do so are far greater." Unfortunately, the Bush administration has similarly failed to demonstrate any resolve in supporting the Iraqi opposition.


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