How Dangerous Is Saddam?

Will latest US confrontation change the Iraqi view that - with or without Saddam Hussein - Kuwait is part of Iraq?

ARE American security interests threatened by this latest round with Saddam Hussein? Claiming that they are ignores facts and historical realities.

Is it our ``jobs and oil'' that are mainly threatened by Saddam? Or does our confrontation with him actually compromise our moral values? Author Kenneth Vaux warns that demonization of the enemy hinders one's capacity to objectively assess true causes, a peaceful resolution, and future consequences of wars. His book, ``Ethics of the Gulf War,'' concludes that Desert Storm unleashed more evil than the evils it sought to contain.

Some might say: ``Forget about ethics. When it comes to vital national interests, we must be pragmatic.'' Yet one doesn't have to be an economist to understand that after the sanctions are lifted and Iraq starts selling oil, petroleum prices will drop. This is in the interest of both sides.

``Did you think that Saddam was going to drink the oil?'' was a question asked of Americans visiting Baghdad shortly after the Gulf war.

One does not have to be a historian to appreciate current and past Iraqi grievances against Britain for creating Kuwait in 1922 out of the Iraqi Ottoman province of Basra (granting it independence in 1961).

Iraq recognized Kuwait only briefly in 1963 - for pragmatic reasons. Iraqis continue to harbor anger against Kuwait for claiming that land and its vast oil resources. Kuwaitis also tend to disdain Iraq's vital economic interests and natural access to the sea. The Iraqi complaint that led to the Gulf war won't disappear, even if Saddam does.

Finally, one need not be a saint to feel revulsion at the collective punishment of an entire nation in order to eliminate one ``evil'' man (whose lifestyle remains virtually unchanged). Everyone knows there are many other aggressors, occupiers of others' lands, ethic cleansers, and violators of many other UN resolutions who remain at large and unpunished.

Other formerly demonized figures, like Menachem Begin and Yasser Arafat, have been known to get rehabilitated, and even receive Nobel Peace Prizes.

How threatening is Saddam today?

It is regrettable that today's only superpower can be so unabashedly threatened by the sabre-rattling of a vanquished despot of a ruined third-world country. Why accord him such credibility?

Nevertheless, those who continue to feel threatened by Saddam should recall recent history. In 1990 hardly anyone in the Arab world, including the Saudis, believed that Saddam would seize Saudi oil wells. Few believe it today, including many experts here and abroad. Most importantly, in 1991, Saddam did not resort to chemical and biological weapons even when cornered, crushed, and humiliated by the unleashing of the deadly weapons of the ``civilized'' world (amassed to fight a former superpower). Why would he do so now or later?

In the 1991 Gulf war, a half-million US ground forces sent to the desert were only marginally engaged. It was primarily air power and high-tech warfare that defeated Iraq within days of the start of the war. Today Saddam's power is minuscule compared with what it was in 1991. So what is the recent overkill all about?

Iraq now just wants the sanctions against it (which Iraqi youths call America's new weapon of mass destruction) lifted. Iraq needs to sell its oil to ease the pain of 19 million impoverished and hungry people. UNICEF reports that 2.5 million Iraqis now suffer from malnutrition.

Ironically, the sanctions have made Saddam more secure because Iraqis blame the US for their suffering. True, Saddam is responsible for not allowing the UN to sell Iraqi oil to buy and distribute food. He refused this offer for reasons of pride and encroachment on Iraqi sovereignty. Yet UN and other foreign relief workers in Iraq warn that an external entity undertaking the colossal task of allocating supplies for a nation would fail. They told us that Iraq was distributing its limited supplies efficiently and equitably.

Lifting or relaxing the oil embargo, in the short run, might relieve the human tragedy in Iraq. This might also show that the United States is abiding by all the provisions in United Nations Resolution 687. The US now flouts a provision of UN Resolution 687 that allows lifting the oil embargo when Iraq cooperates with dismantling and monitoring its weapons of mass destruction.

According to the UN, Iraq has recently fulfilled the requirements of UN Resolution 687, which says nothing about other sanctions or Iraq having to satisfy any other UN resolutions before the oil embargo can be lifted.

How long will we squander billions of US taxpayers' dollars to save an oil conglomerate owned by a handful of families and managing a half-million Kuwaiti citizens and more than a million foreign laborers (even if we forget about the $600 billion the Gulf war and the sanctions cost the Arab world, and the $20 billion to $30 billion lost to Turkey because of its support of what Secretary of State James Baker admitted was a war for ``US jobs and cheap oil'')?

How long is America going to baby-sit for this tarbaby in a dangerous neighborhood? The bottom line is that, long after Saddam is gone and oil has become an obsolete source of energy, Iraqis will continue to claim Kuwaiti territory as their ancestral right. Events in the Gulf will follow regional dynamics, not external manipulations.

Let's spend our valuable resources at home to fight real enemies: crime, drugs, poverty, disease, and illiteracy. Ultimately it is not Saddam, but our insatiable appetite for Gulf oil that will undermine our principles, jobs, and the American way of life. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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