A One-Sided Mideast Policy?

WHAT is it between so many members of the American political elite and hi-tech weaponry? Thinking that "smart" bombs can solve your problems doesn't seen like smart thinking to me. The June 26 Tomahawk raid against Iraq is the latest example. Did the Clinton team think the raid would bring Iraq any closer to where they wanted to see it? How was this to happen?

Clausewitz's old maxim that "War is an extension of politics by other means" still holds true. That is, the politics of the outcome matter - not battlefield wizardry. President Clinton, and those who laud the attack against Iraq, have forgotten that.

Let's back up. What was the Iraq policy Mr. Clinton tried to implement? The fullest statement of that policy came in a speech by National Security Council staffer Martin Indyk to a pro-Israel think-tank a month ago. Mr. Indyk formulated the novel idea that both Iraq and Iran, 72 million people with fairly modern infrastructures and vast oil reserves, could be subject to the kind of punitive shunning we have dealt to Cuba or Vietnam.

Regarding Iraq, Indyk stated that, "We seek Iraq's full compliance with all UN resolutions. The regime of Saddam Hussein must never again pose a threat to Iraq's neighborhood. And we are also committed to ensuring Iraq's compliance with UN resolution 688, which calls upon the regime to end its repression of the Iraqi people.... Our quarrel is not with the Iraqi people."

Nothing much new here - George Bush used to say the same. But if a bunch of highly explosive smart weapons were to drop by your neighborhood in the middle of the night, with three of them plowing into your neighbors' homes, would you be inclined to believe that last statement?

By and large, the bombing of cities builds the survivors' support for their leader and fuels hatred of the bombers. My parents' generations, growing up in London during the blitz, knew this. Americans puzzled by Vietnamese reactions to the bombing of Hanoi began to understand. I saw it happen in Beirut after Israeli air raids there in the 1970s.

Those raids were part of a cycle of violence that in 1982 saw Israeli ground forces invade Lebanon: a punishment to end Arab crimes. But the Israelis were the ones finally punished. Three years later, they were back where they started from. Beirut was more hostile to them. They had lost 1,200 people. They sowed an enmity against themselves from their neighbors in south Lebanon - which they continue to reap.

What kind of future do our leaders hold out for the 17 million people of Iraq? One possible hopeful element is the new support the Clinton team is giving to the opposition Iraqi National Congress. But that support remains weak; the INC itself is weak.

A realistic US policy should state explicitly that, through the INC and any other parties, the US seeks a democratic future for all Iraqis - and for their neighbors. The best way I can see this happening in Iraq is still the UN-sponsored, national reconciliation through elections.

But our credibility with Iraqis is low. It is hard for an Iraqi to believe the United States wishes her or him well. Only 28 months ago a US president called on "the people and army of Iraq" to rise against Saddam. When they did, the US stood by as they were slaughtered. And ineffective American posturing around southern Iraq has increased Saddam's ability to "mop up" opposition there. Our commitment to the sanctity of the Kurds' "safe haven" in the north remains tenuous.

It did not help US credibility among Iraqis (or other Muslims) that the new administration's first broad expression of its Mideast policy was made to a pro-Israel group, by a high-ranking NSC staffer plucked directly from that group. There are too many indications in this administration that Mideast policy is being directed by friends of one side.

Those friends should share some of Israel's recent experience: that a policy of endless punishment leads nowhere; that talking is better than fighting; that massive force cannot, divorced from a workable political strategy, ever make the world what you want it to be.

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