"On handing over my job at the National Security Council, I was only able to leave my successors a complimentary and unclassified copy of the Camp David accords in the office safe" said Robert Hunter, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter's deputy national security advisor.
Hunter's statement was intended to illustrate the nature of regime change in American government: Policy is terminated together with an administration's term in office.
Condoleezza Rice, the current U.S. national security advisor, on the other hand, is not in a position to claim "diplomatic amnesia." Rice was part of George Bush Snr.'s national security team during the Gulf War (before she retired and went on to serve, inter alia, as a director on the board of the Chevron oil company). But even if in her previous term, she skipped the Iraqi chapter (her brief was the Soviet Union and Russia), she could have taken advantage of the services of Brent Scowcroft, Bush Snr.'s national security advisor.
Scowcroft warned last week that an attack on Iraq could lead to a wider Middle East war. One does not have to take heed of the former national security advisor's warnings, but it would be prudent to remember his words in an interview three years ago with the Asharq Al-Awsat daily: "We must be more patient in our response to Saddam. It would be better to remember that although he is a factor that frustrates everyone, he no longer constitutes a major threat to regional security. As long as we make sure that he cannot re-arm his military, especially with weapons of mass destruction, then we will achieve our aims."
The issue is not whether Scowcroft's analysis and his recent warning against a renewed attack on Saddam were right or wrong, but rather the way in which decisions are made by the U.S. administration. The calls for a war against Saddam did not begin in recent weeks. Since the war in Afghanistan, the American secretary of defense has been saying that Iraq is next in line. At the same time, President George W. Bush introduced to the world his concept of the "axis of evil," which placed Iran, Iraq and North Korea in one basket, giving the impression that the president is holding on to a packet of tickets for the amusement park and each time is looking out for a new ride.
It is impossible to tell whether a war against Iraq will be launched because Baghdad is suspected of being involved in terrorism (an accusation that even the White House no longer brandishes), because it has weapons of mass destruction (a claim on which experts are divided) or for moral reasons - Saddam's despotic rule over his own people (as Rice has explained recently).
It could be that the answer isn't to be found in any of these explanations, but in the fact that the United Sates has, in recent months, put itself in a position in which it is fighting for its prestige. After all, how long can a president talk war and in the end not launch it?
If ousting Saddam is such an acute affair, why did Bush wait until now; and why is the White House talking about "next fall" as a possible date? On the other hand, if the Saddam threat is not so great, perhaps it would be better to look at other ways? After all, they've been trying to get rid of Saddam for the last 12 years, so what's so urgent now? Has a mysterious opportunity dropped into the administration's hands, or is this war simply already marked in the administration's diary?
Of course, it would indeed be preferable if Saddam were to step down or be supplanted. Then again, it would be great if Ayatollah Ali Khameini wasn't the supreme leader in Iran; if Bashar Assad wasn't the president of Syria; if Muammar Gadhafi wasn't the leader of Libya; and if Yasser Arafat wasn't the head honcho in Palestine - and one could add several more vexing leaders.
The government of Israel isn't always particularly relished by the American administration. If the U.S. administration is suffering from an excess of fighting spirit, perhaps it should channel that energy into making peace in the region.
Would it be too much to believe that peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors would weaken the threat posed by Saddam, or at least strengthen the position of the United States in a region in which it has been left with few friends, even when it comes to confronting an old enemy like Saddam?
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