- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Those who would like to kill three poisonous snakes Osama bin Laden, Mullah Mohammed Omar and Saddam Hussein with one stone should think again. As admirable as their objective is today, the let's-do-it-now advocates Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; the Defense Review Board's Richard Perle; former CIA Director James Woolsey; columnist William Safire; author Laurie Mylroie should keep in mind the law of unintended consequences.
Mr. Perle says, as he did again on CNN's "Crossfire," that a resolute United States, determined to prevail against Saddam, would enjoy the support of our Arab friends and NATO allies. A fatally flawed assumption, responds Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League and Egypt's former foreign minister. Reflecting a consensus that stretches from Morocco to Jordan and from Turkey to Oman, senior officials have a remarkably similar reaction. The gist of several telephonic conversations during the past week:
It doesn't come as a surprise that the United States would like to take its military campaign to Iraq, but it would be astonishing if it did so thinking it would have Arab or Turkish support. The crippling sanctions regime and continued air strikes against Iraq are a major issue in the Arab world, and a source of great resentment as the sanctions go into their second decade. The U.S. policy in Iraq has given birth to strong anti-American sentiments in Arab capitals, and the current drive to draw a connection between Saddam Hussein and September 11 is seen as contrived and flimsy. Unlike deposing Taliban, extending the military campaign to Iraq would be a decisive blow to any pretense of a coalition that included Arab allies. It would also put friendly Arab leaders like Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah under enormous local pressure to disassociate themselves from the expanding campaign.
Even Kuwait, the country that Saddam invaded in 1990, has serious reservations. Not a single European ally supports the idea. Other major players Russia, China, Pakistan and India have also made clear such a move would be a geopolitical blunder. The support the United States enjoys today over Afghanistan would vaporize over a similar campaign against Iraq.
Most of these leaders fear this would unleash a regional war in the Middle East, most likely triggered by a couple of Iraqi Scud missiles impacting in downtown Tel Aviv with a chemical of biological weapon of mass destruction in the nose cone. The Western world's gas station would quickly become part of the combustible mix. A terrorist bomb in the Saudi oil terminal at Ras Tanura or a supertanker blown up by limpet mines stuck to its hull by terrorist frogmen would quickly move the world from slump to global depression.
The almost bloodless Persian Gulf war to liberate Kuwait followed by the bloodless 78-day air campaign to pry Kosovo loose from Slobodan Milosevic's dictatorial grip followed by an almost bloodless (thus far) air-cum-special forces campaign to demolish bin Laden's al Qaeda and his Taliban support structure, all have made Iraq a tempting next target for the unchallenged and awesome U.S. military power.
But the frustrated officials who served in the earlier Bush administration should temper the temptation to raise the stakes and finish what they left unfinished in 1991 by simply asking themselves whether this would be worth the total loss of international support. Increasing aid and efforts to galvanize the Iraqi National Congress and stepping up propaganda and electronic warfare will not be sufficient to topple the Iraqi tyrant. A serious effort would require direct U.S. military intervention. This would give a major boost to fundamentalist groups, from South Asia to the Middle East to North Africa. The new U.S. alliance with Pakistan, already shaky, would collapse.
The assumption that Iraq is the hub of transnational terrorism also bears more careful examination. The Western world's most effective counterterrorist operator does not buy in. Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, swashbuckler extraordinaire, has been engaged on many fronts since 1985, personally leading highly successful semi-legal forays all over Europe, the UAE, Libya and Algeria, among others. He tracked down Carlos the Jackal (the Venezuelan terrorist Ramirez Sanchez) to Khartoum, arranged to have him kidnapped and chloroformed and flown back to France, where he now serves a life sentence. Judge Bruguiere, 58, is arguably the most knowledgeable on Islamist terrorism in all its ramifications. He has dismantled al Qaeda cells, thwarted their plan to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Paris and destroyed the much feared Algerian Armed Islamic Group. He is worth listening to.
In recent interviews with European media, Judge Bruguiere has said that autonomous terrorist cells in Europe and North America do not need orders from bin Laden or Baghdad or anyone else to carry out the next phases of their "holy war." The next attacks chemical and biological will be nothing like September 11, he told the New York Times. "We have evidence of planning for poisoning water supplies with cyanide. It would be very easy, and very hard to prevent."
The main geopolitical lesson for the United States at this juncture is that unilateralism and neo-isolationism are birds of an aberrant feather. Taking on Iraq alone would be an act of unilateralism. And unilateralism can only lead to isolationism.
Afghanistan has demonstrated the need for a new global security system. The war against transnational terrorism demands nothing less.
But a war against Iraq without irrefutable evidence that Saddam is running bin Laden would quickly strip the United States of all the assets it required to fight Taliban and al Qaeda e.g., military bases in Pakistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Bahrain and Oman and overflight permission from Iran. Kuwait would also be hard-pressed by domestic opinion to join these ranks.
That Saddam's intelligence services have kept in touch with al Qaeda operatives is a given. That Saddam has an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons is also firmly established. That he is a dangerous, despotic megalomaniac has been known but ignored by the United States during Iraq's eight-year war against Iran (1980-88) since he ran Iraq's security services in the early 1970s. And that he has to go and his people freed is also a sine qua non for peace in the Middle East.
But not as an addendum to Afghanistan.


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