Five Years Later, Uneasy Stability in Middle East
DESERT STORM LEGACY
FIVE years ago today, President Bush stepped to the rostrum in the House of Representatives and announced to cheering lawmakers that Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait had been repelled.Skip to next paragraph
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That war, fought to advance a world order based on what Mr. Bush described as ''the principles of justice and fair play,'' has had striking results, neutralizing Iraq and opening the door to negotiations that moved the Arab-Israeli conflict closer to resolution.
''The big threat of somebody who could dominate the Gulf and control the flow of oil and become a super-OPEC is gone,'' says University of Virginia Middle East specialist William Quandt, referring to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the global cartel that controls most oil exports.
But if the Iraqi threat remains at bay, other troubles bedevil a region that remains crucial to Western interests. Five years after the end of the Gulf war, Middle East experts point to the three most serious challenges to regional stability:
Palestinian militants, whose bombs have killed more than 55 Israelis in the past 10 days, pose a significant danger to a peace process that has so far led to a formal treaty between Israel and Jordan and promising Israeli negotiations with both Palestinians and Syria.
The long-term problem of providing security for US allies in the Gulf and the oil they export remains unresolved, despite the successful United States-led campaign against Iraq during the Gulf war.
Rapid population growth and inefficient economies are placing enormous pressure on many Arab regimes to keep up with spiraling demands for housing, jobs, and social services. The result, notes Mr. Quandt: ''the potential for protest-style politics throughout the region'' over the next one or two decades.
''We would have had some of these problems with or without the Gulf war,'' says Shibley Telhami, director of Cornell University's Near Eastern Studies Program and currently guest scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington.
''But thanks to the Gulf war the strategic situation has been frozen at least temporarily, there is no major military threat from Iraq today, and Middle East peacemaking has been more successful.''
Mercy for Saddam Hussein
Five years after the Gulf war, experts still debate whether the US could have done more to topple Saddam Hussein, who rules in Baghdad despite the 100-hour US air war that rained devastation on Iraq in 1991.
Critics fault Mr. Bush for failing to destroy Saddam's elite Revolutionary Guards, even at the cost of carrying the war to Baghdad. At a minimum, they say, Bush should have subjected Saddam to the humiliation of forcing him to appear at the formal surrender in Iraq's southern desert.
But Bush continues to defend his decision to stick with the more limited United Nations mandate calling for the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
''There we would be,'' Bush told David Frost in a recent interview, ''searching for this brutal dictator who had the best security in the world, involved in an urban guerrilla war [in Baghdad]. This is not a formula that I wanted to contemplate, and I think history will say we did the right thing.''
Saddam's continuing hold on power is one reason Gulf leaders still feel threatened five years after the Gulf war. As part of their defensive strategy they have come to rely on the permanent average deployment in the region of some 12,000 US soldiers and sailors.
But restive elements in the Gulf region, including conservative Islamic groups, see this Western presence not as a defense against potential aggressors but as an American ploy to preserve the rule of corrupt, undemocratic regimes. All of which makes overt US military cooperation with the Gulf states a virtual impossibility.