Pentagon officials, explaining why the raid on Iraqi radar and control sites was launched on Friday while President Bush was in Mexico, said that the Muslim work holiday was chosen to avoid hitting Chinese military officers and civilians working on the fiber-optic defense network.
The Chinese flouting the United Nations sanctions and helping to develop a system to shoot down American planes?
This is the measure of the fix that President Bush is in, caught like his father before him between Iraq and a hard place, and on much more disadvantageous terms. The broad-based coalition that made Desert Storm such a success has evaporated. NATO allies got no advance notice of the Anglo-American attack on Iraqi anti- aircraft sites. Several governments condemned the raid, and, perhaps more ominous, many countries are urging the lifting of sanctions. Some, especially in the Arab world, are already bypassing them.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, off to the region today, is ready to talk of limited sanctions - streamlined, he calls them - to spare children and other civilians. He is in a weak position, trying to save at least the embargo on weapons and dual-purpose technologies.
The weakness can be measured in what has happened to Iraqi oil exports.
Aside from the United Nations-supervised oil-for-food arrangement, Saddam Hussein reportedly exports now an estimated 400,000 barrels a day. A large part of it goes through the reopened Syrian pipeline. Some also goes through Jordan and Turkey. Some even goes through Iranian waters. And petroleum analysts say that some of the Iraqi oil is laundered through paper companies to American refineries.
To most presidents there comes that first international crisis to test their mettle, and this may be President Bush's. He needs to study the complexities of the situation. For example, in Mexico, he said he expected Saddam Hussein to respect the no-fly zone arrangement he signed after Desert Storm. Actually, the no-fly zones were established in the early-1990s without Saddam Hussein's agreement in order to protect Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south.
Ten years after the war that President Bush the elder didn't finish, his antagonist is riding high with $1 billion a year in oil revenues, proclaiming himself the Islamic Saladin against the American and Israeli infidels.
And Bush the younger faces a situation the more poignant for having been inherited from his father.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society