Tuesday, November 27, 2001

The shaved beards in Kabul are a poignant symbol of U.S. and Northern Alliance victories in Afghanistan. While it is true that the key U.S. objective remains elusive since Osama bin Laden is still at large, recent victories have prodded many to question, after Afghanistan what next? The success of the Northern Alliance on the ground, combined with U.S. airpower from above, could well be replicated in Iraq if the U.S. government puts equal force and determination behind the enterprise. It is an option the Bush administration ought to consider seriously its war on terrorism.

In wake of the September 11 attacks, Saddam Hussein has been a focus of much concern, particularly as a potential source of anthrax. The White House has a wide range of policy options to deal with Saddam that wouldn’t detract from America’s military engagement in Afghanistan.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has made it clear that the war in Afghanistan is just the first installment in the fight against countries that sponsor terrorism. Clearly, that places Iraq high on the list of potential targets. The White House should keep Saddam’s eventual toppling as a crucial, long-term goal. The administration may ultimately decide on a military option, but, for now, we should be far more aggressive in supporting the Iraqi opposition and laying the groundwork for democracy in Iraq by giving the Kurds in the north a higher level of security from a possible attack by Saddam. By pledging to provide the Kurds with anti-missile weaponry in the event Saddam’s troops were to advance on their territory, we would give the Kurds greater liberty to engage in democratic activities, such as broadcasting Radio Free Iraq in the area they control.

It is also important that the White House ensure that the Iraqi population isn’t too weak to eventually launch an effective insurrection. In this regard, Iraqis’ access to potable water is critical. Chlorine is wisely banned from Iraq, but U.N. workers need to identify a feasible way of giving Iraqis consistent access to drinkable water for both humanitarian and strategic reasons.

Meanwhile, in the absence of weapons inspectors in Iraq, the White House must pressure countries in the region, particularly Syria, to stop participating in Iraq’s oil-smuggling schemes. In the past, Syria has profited quite nicely from this arrangement, pocketing up to $1 billion of the $2 billion in annual oil revenues generated from this arrangement. And, in this regard, the United States has a public relations ace to play. While many Muslims reflexively support Saddam’s defiance of the United States, there is also widespread disdain for Saddam’s acts of violence against other Muslims. The White House should highlight Saddam’s poor treatment of his own people, and illustrate how Syria’s oil-smuggling relationship with him empowers a butcher of Muslims. The White House should also stress within the region that the proceeds from smuggled oil go towards bolstering Saddam’s personal fortune and military machine, not towards humanitarian needs, since the United Nations has no access to the ill-begotten funds for food or medicine.

The White House must now begin taking the steps that will contribute to the toppling of Saddam. Fears that these measures could precipitously lead to a dangerous power vacuum in Iraq are unfounded, since the process of getting rid of Saddam will be incremental. Clearly, America’s main focus must be in Afghanistan for the moment, but it must start sowing the seeds of change in Iraq today.

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