For Saddam, Where's the Carrot?

PAINS create no pressure unless there is a way to avoid them. Economic sanctions against Iraq - no matter how tight - put no pressure whatsoever on Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait unless we offer him an alternative which looks more attractive to him than staying. The sanctions we're applying are barely half what is necessary to influence Saddam. Pressure depends on the contrast between his view of two things: 1.What happens to Iraq if it remains in Kuwait?; and

2.What happens to Iraq if it withdraws?

Sanctions definitely do inflict economic and social pain on Iraq. But what can Saddam expect if he withdraws? This second half of the equation has been ignored.

If Iraq withdrew tomorrow from Kuwait, sanctions would undoubtedly continue as we demanded the release of foreign nationals. If he then released the nationals, would he feel safer? Could he be confident sanctions would stop? Might he not expect that US armed forces would occupy Kuwait and then try to overthrow him? Might he not expect sanctions to continue as he faced more demands: an end of Iraq's nuclear program; destruction of its biological and chemical weapons; return of looted property; compensation to Kuwait; compensation to detainees; forfeiture of frozen assets; etc.

The issue isn't whether demands are unreasonable. Rather, we need to recognize that sanctions produce no incentive to withdraw or to release foreign nationals if Saddam can expect that sanctions might well continue anyway and that he would be worse off - more vulnerable, and facing new demands with no bargaining chips. The frying pan is warming up, but Saddam has no incentive to jump into the fire.

If sanctions are to have a chance of working we need to provide Saddam with a way out. He needs to see both a more attractive prospect than unending sanctions and a way to a better outcome. He needs to know the consequences of the action we want him to take. He should be confident that if he withdraws from Kuwait and releases all foreign nationals then sanctions will stop and Iraq will not be attacked.

The Security Council's formal demand for ``unconditional'' withdrawal should not bar us from working out conditions that turn sanctions into real pressure. It may not be easy. Saddam's alternative ought to be such that although he finds it more attractive than sanctions, he is not rewarded for his aggression, nor paid any blackmail. A good standard would be that Saddam receives no more than he could achieve through peaceful negotiations or to which he is otherwise entitled under international law.

Beyond the release of foreign nationals, withdrawal from Kuwait, and the ending of sanctions, there are plenty of bargaining points. These might include: a transitional Arab peacekeeping force in Kuwait to follow Iraqi withdrawal; an invited Soviet presence in Iraq under UN auspices to guarantee Iraq against attack; President Bush's reassurance that the US will leave the Gulf when the area is stable; arms control negotiations among Iraq, the US, and Saudi Arabia to reduce Iraqi military potential in exchange for US withdrawals; appointing a distinguished Arab mediator to work on the Iraq-Kuwait disputes over the Ramaila oil field and Iraq's Gulf access; establishing a procedure for dealing with all financial issues over frozen assets, debts, and claims for compensation; an invitation from Kuwait for Arab assistance in moving toward internal democratization consistent with Islamic values. Such an agreement is best developed by a third party through private discussion in which no one is committed until the end.

Negotiation doesn't mean giving in. The US should continue to work on alternatives - what to do if sanctions and an open door don't work. Fighting a bloody war would cost billions, may end the UN consensus, destroy the oil facilities of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq, wreck economies, and so on. It might be better simply to deprive Iraq of a benefit from invading Kuwait by maintaining indefinitely the blockade on Iraqi oil. We could also let oil flow through the blockade if the purchase price were deposited in escrow in Switzerland. Such alternatives can be explored along with ``building a golden bridge'' for Saddam's retreat.

The US needs to be both persistent in pursuit of our interests and flexible as to how they are met. Future security arrangements, financial claims, and territorial disputes cannot be settled without discussion. It is far better to have discussions before rather than after a bloody war. With the benefit of such talks, the UN can offer Saddam a package of terms which should be more attractive to him than ongoing sanctions. Only when there are better terms will sanctions constitute pressure.

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