JWR / Middle East Geopolitics

Jason Maoz: The Day Israel Saved The World

Amos Perlmutter: Saddam's Predictable Defiance

A classic editorial: The West's Unfinished Business

Jon B. Alterman: The Sunset of Arab Leadership

Douglas M. Bloomfield: Time for Israel to Leave Lebanon?

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Cover Story
January 1, 1998 / 3 Tevet, 5758

Saddam's Predictable Defiance

By Amos Perlmutter

IRAQ UPBRAIDED and lashed out at Ambassador Richard Butler, the UNSCOM chief inspector, accusing him of interfering with Iraqi internal affairs and sovereignty. Saddam Hussein has adamantly and categorically refused the inspection of his 80 or so palaces where the assembly of weapons of mass destruction as well as a more ominous nuclear development is taking place.

That should not surprise the Clinton administration. After all, its so-called diplomatic effort, collaborating with Russia, China and France, whose interests in Iraq are in total contradiction to ours, is responsible for effectively freeing Saddam of every U.N. sanction. President Clinton's total lack of will to pursue the military option left the diplomatic one in the hands of Yevgeny Primakov and his French and Chinese allies. They are dedicated to bringing an end to the sanctions on Iraq for reasons of greed and access to Iraqi oil.

Thus, we should not expect any U.N. action to be any different from what the leadership of Russia dictates. It was Mr. Primakov himself who declared that there is not and should not be any U.N. military option against Iraq. Not only has he taken over the diplomatic leadership on Iraqi sanctions, but he is interfering in U.S. policy as well, where the president clearly said that all options are open, including the military.

The audacity of the neo-Stalinist, anti-American Mr. Primakov is represented by his outrageous statement that an overwhelming majority of the world is opposed to the Clinton administration's option to use force when and if diplomacy fails. Diplomacy will not fail for the obvious reason that it is conducted by America's so-called allies, in fact its rivals and antagonists, whose purposes contradict U.S. national interests.

Let's make it clear: American national interests are to continue to impose the sanctions on Saddam Hussein as long as he fragrantly violates U.N. sanctions, and it is obvious to all that he aims to continue producing weapons of mass destruction in the very palaces that he prohibits UNSCOM from inspecting.

Saddam's attitude toward UNSCOM reminds one of the drunkard searching for a penny on the lighted street, when he actually lost it in the dark alley. Asked by a passerby why he is looking in the street when the penny was lost in the alley, the drunkard answers, "Because I can't see in the dark."

Critical parts of the palaces are indeed in the dark, and the phony palace tours given by Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz to foreign journalists avoided those critical areas. Mr. Primakov's attitude raised the ire of Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright in the second meeting of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council on Sept. 17. Mr. Primakov took advantage of Russia's new role in Europe, facilitated by the United States, using the U.S.-Russian Forum to conduct a Russian anti-American policy in Europe, and now in Iraq.

Mr. Primakov, to the consternation of Ms. Albright, repeated the statement of Saddam Hussein's chief lackey, Tariq Aziz, that the United States will be isolated by the international community if it declares war on Iraq. Mr. Primakov made it clear that he is not in tandem with the United States concerning the nature and scope of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction or his intentions to use them. In other words, Mr. Primakov has given Saddam a clean bill of health.

In every significant issue concerning U.S. national interests, Mr. Primakov emerges as an obstacle rather than a facilitator. The U.S.-Russia Founding Act was established as a pacifier to Russia for NATO's extension. We have given Russia a forum, an institutional arrangement, from which it can rebut U.S. policies in European and Middle Eastern areas.

A declining Russia, therefore, is elevating itself to the driver's seat by exploiting America's NATO extension aspirations. The audacity of the most anti-American figure in President Boris Yeltsin's government, Foreign Minister Primakov, to challenge U.S. policy in the Middle East, only demonstrates the price this administration will pay for ill-conceived actions whose consequences will be detrimental to U.S. interests.

More and more, unless the president demonstrates will that goes beyond diplomatic gobbledegook, we will witness predictable strategic and political fiascoes. It is amazing that the second Clinton administration is distinguishing itself by bankrupting America's hard-earned properties of the last several decades. Indeed, as Machiavelli said long ago, the greatest crime of all is political and military impotence.


Amos Perlmutter, a professor of political science and sociology at American University, is editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies. His numerous books include Two Minutes Over Baghdad (Corgi, 1983). Beginning with this issue, he is a regular JWR contributor.

©1998, Amos Perlmutter