Posts

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1991, Vol. XXVII, Number 10

Bush boo-booed.  He made a serious mistake.  The failure to support the Kurdish rebels against Saddam Hussein may blow away the fruits of victory. 

Bush had Hussein on the run. The dictator’s army was in disarray, his image of power was shattered, his control of his country was vanishing.  Very little effort would have been required to topple him.  One day more of fighting to prevent the remnants of the Republican Guard to escape (sic) the American trap with their equipment.  An order (seriously meant) to shoot down Iraqi helicopters flying over Kurdish territory.  Military supplies sent to reinforce the Kurdish rebels. 

The opportunity for victory was given up.  Americans stood passively by to watch Hussein crush the Shiite and Kurdish rebellions, even though most people understood that there would be no Allied or UN triumph until Hussein fell.  Bush’s continuous appeal for the overthrow of the Iraqi dictator was an acknowledgment of that reality. 

Why did Bush make the decision he did? 

The nicest (although naive) explanation is that he did not want to exceed the mandate of the UN which authorized the expulsion of the Iraqis from Kuwait, but did not sanction interfering in the internal affairs of Iraqi politics.  Going beyond the mandate would anger the Russian and Chinese and undermine the possibility of future cooperation.  And after all, if we are morally obliged to overthrow the government of Iraq, are we not also morally obliged to intervene in other countries with governments equally dictatorial?  Once we start with internal political rearrangements where would we stop? 

A more realistic explanation is that the State Department feared that Iraq was falling apart.  They feared that Shiite fundamentalists, under the control of the Persians, would take over the country.  They feared that Kurdish rebels, proclaiming an independent Kurdistan, would threaten the goodwill of our Turkish and Syrian allies, who have substantial Kurdish minorities whom they repress.  They believed that a dismembered Iraq would be a source of chaos and turmoil in the Middle East, that only a strong military tyranny can hold Iraq together and that the only available military able to perform this task was the Sunni officer corps of the Baath Party.  Surely, they reasoned, some ambitious general, aware that America will allow the old military to stay in power, would choose to overthrow Saddam and his immediate circle of ruthless supporters. 

But the State Department reasoning is false.  And it led to a fatal decision. 

The prestige of the United Nations was not enhanced by the refusal to intervene.  It was diminished.  The man who chose to defy the United Nations is still in power with a substantial army to support him.  The United Nations cannot arrange to remove all aggressive dictatorial governments.  But it should not hesitate to do so when it has the power and the opportunity to accomplish the task, especially when the government in question is a source of potential future defiance. 

The cooperation of the Russian and the Chinese will not be the result of American caution.  It will flow from the perception that the United Nations is working and that America is serious about creating a new world order in which defiant oppressors will not only be punished but will also be removed from power. 

Chaos is not the only alternative to Saddam Hussein and military dictatorship.  Both the leaders of the Kurdish insurgents and the Arab Shiiites have publicly stated that they do not want to dismember Iraq and have pledged their cooperation in creating a democratic coalition government.  The Iraqi Kurds know that an independent Kurdistan is unacceptable for their Turkish and Persian neighbors.  They are willing to settle for a regional autonomy within a united Iraq.  The Iraqi Shiiites know that a dismembered Iraq would deprive them of the oil revenues they need for their own development.  And, being Arab Shiites, they do not want to fall under the control of their Persian co-religionists. 

What harm could have come from attempting to create an alternative coalition government to Saddam Hussein, which would have included Kurds, Shiites and opposition Sunnis?  Such a coalition would have received the support of Turkey and Iran.  Even the Russians and the Chinese would have been reluctant to support Saddam Hussein in the face of his collapse and the endorsement of major Middle Eastern powers.  But the alternative needed the direction and orchestration of the United States. And they were not forthcoming, even though the euphoria of military victory would have provided the momentum. 

The Bush government was obsessed with the fear of being sucked into a long and inconclusive civil war from which the Americans could not easily extract themselves and in which mounting casualties and inconclusive results would undermine American popular support.  But their fear was exaggerated and misplaced. 

What will America now do with a resurgent Hussein?  How will it counter his provocative and unrepentant propaganda?  How will it ensure compliance with the terms of the permanent ceasefire after its troops are withdrawn?  After all, the reason military action was taken was because economic sanctions were not working? (sic)  What guarantee do we have that they will work now?  And who will serve as the protectors of the Kurdish insurgents and Arab Shiites who were encouraged to rebel by American propaganda?  Why should Israel be persuaded to make concessions to the Palestinians, if the Americans are unwilling to force the Iraqis to make concessions to their Kurds? 

Image is not trivial.  The image of a strong victorious determined and idealistic America, which was so strong at the time of the military victory, is vanishing.  In its place has emerged the image of a contentious, fearful and confused America that is only concerned with its immediate vested interests and is unable to protect its own allies.  In the long run such a vision is not good for the long-run vested interests of America and the new world order Bush so loudly touted. 

The moment of opportunity has passed.  We are now into damage control. Living with regret is indeed useless.  But those of us who expected more of Bush have a right to be mad.  Wasting victory is not easy to take. 

The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, February 1991, Vol. XXVII, Number 7

I am writing this message on January 11, four days before the UN deadline for Saddam Hussein to pull out of Kuwait. 

I do not know what will happen.  I do not know whether Saddam will choose to withdraw from Kuwait or to fight.  I do not know whether there will be war or peace. 

But what I do know is that I support the policy of George Bush (for whom I did not vote) in the Gulf crisis.  No other alternative seems able to do what needs to be done. 

Why do I support the Bush policy? 

I support Bush because Saddam Hussein is a major threat to world order.  The end of the cold War is no guarantee of a peaceful planet.  Ambitious rulers of ambitious Third World countries, armed with the sophisticated weapons of the West, can ultimately prove as provocative and as dangerous as the Soviet Union.  The Muslim world, in particular, dominated by the rival ideologies of religious fundamentalism and national socialism, has the potential for widespread defiance of peaceful coexistence.  The issue is more than oil.  If Saddam Hussein succeeds in holding onto Kuwait and proceeds to develop nuclear weapons, he would have no compunction to use or share, the message will be clear.  Any tinpot dictator, with guts and guns, can do what he chooses to do without any fear of effective reprisal.  The dream of a functioning United Nations, within the framework of a peaceful and disciplined world order, a dream that the end of the Cold War seemed to be turning into a reality, would be completely shattered.  Whether Kuwait was a feudal tyranny or not is completely irrelevant.  It was invaded and annexed against the will of its people. 

I support Bush because he has not chosen to make the punishment of Iraq an exclusively American action.  Not only has he mobilized the support of our traditional allies but he has also secured the endorsement of the United Nations.  The confrontation with Iraq is not an American confrontation.  It is the confrontation of the world community with a recalcitrant nation.  Even many Arab nations have joined this international effort.  The crime of Saddam Hussein is not the violation of American economic interests  The crime of Hussein is against world order and against the United Nations which embodies that ideal.  I am not naive about the Western fear of losing control of critical oil fields.  But I am aware that most actions have more than one motivation.  The American obsession with oil does not diminish the callous rejection of peaceful coexistence engineered by Saddam and his Iraqi devotees. 

I support Bush because economic sanctions will not work to persuade Hussein to withdraw. If there is no military threat, lowered standards of living and deteriorating military equipment will not be sufficient to persuade a fanatic regime to surrender, especially if the Iraqi people see themselves as the vanguard of an Arab resistance movement.  In time holes will open in the embargo circle as the nations of the world weary of their vigil and the Arab people come to revere Saddam as a successful symbol of defiance of “Western Imperialism”.  The threat of military action is not intended to produce war.  It is intended to persuade the adversary to avoid war.  But if there is no military ultimatum, a determined adversary, inured to suffering, will find no reason to change the course of his action. 

I support Bush because waiting for our allies to make equal sacrifices is to abdicate our responsibility.  Whether we like it or not, our role has been and continues to be parental.  Parents cannot afford to be peevish, withdrawing into a corner until the children choose to behave.  It is certainly true that nations like France, Germany and Japan, who will benefit mightily from American sacrifice, ought to be doing more than they are doing.  But their refusal to fulfill their moral responsibilities does not absolve us from fulfilling ours.  Hopefully, in time, our role as the leader of the democratic nations will become less parental and their role will become more mature.  I do not prescribe to a prevailing libeeral critique that American leadership is nothing more than Western Imperialism and that American foreign policy is devoid of any idealism.  On the contrary, despite our many deficiencies, the only great power with any willingness to defend the maintenance of world order has been America.  The invasions of Grenada and Panama were not the invasion of Kuwait.  They enjoyed the overwhelming support of the people of these nations, who viewed the military action as liberation. 

I support Bush because a conflict with Iraq is not the same as the war in Vietnam.  The war in Vietnam was part of the Cold War, a war against the powerful Soviet Union and, therefore, unwinable (sic).  (It is amazing that Saddam chose to invade Kuwait after the Cold War had come to an end and after his Soviet allies were willing to come to his aid.) But Iraq stands virtually alone, devoid of powerful allies and assaulted by hostile Arab powers.  Iraq stands against the world.  Her vulnerability is far greater than Vietnam.  If the legacy of Vietnam in America is that we are no longer willing to engage in any military action short of the defense of American territory from aggressive assault, then the legacy is dangerous.  As the one remaining world power, we have world responsibilities.  The defense of world order is one of them. 

I hope that by the publication of this message Saddam has chosen to withdraw from Kuwait.  If he has, it will be because of the threat of military action.  But if he remains in Kuwait, the military alternative, painful as it appears to be, is the only effective answer to this provocation. 

Whether there is peace or war it is clear that the Gulf crisis is inevitably linked to the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the minds of both our Arab and European allies.  The resolution of the gulf (sic) crisis must ultimately lead to an American initiative, under the aegis of the United Nations, to find a solution to the Arab-Jewish struggle.  The disciplining of Saddam may have positive consequences in other parts of the Middle East and lead to the resolution of other conflicts. 

The Rabbi Writes: The War Is Over. What Do We Do Now?

The Jewish Humanist, April 1991, Vol. XXVII, Number 9

The stunning American military victory has produced both euphoria and anxiety. We are euphoric over the swift collapse of Iraqi armed resistance. We are anxious over the ambiguous meaning of its consequences. 

The victory has forced us to dismiss so many Illusions. Saddam Hussein is not a monstrously clever and cunning ruler. He is a  stupid man who arranged for the destruction of the Arab world’s most powerful Army. Had he read the Sunday New York Times he would have been aware of the encirclement strategy of the Schwarzkopf command. Every amateur military “maven” but him knew that the amphibious landing was a ruse. 

The war that was to last for months lasted for one month. The ground war lasted for only 100 hours. The thousands of American casualties and the use of chemical weapons never materialized, the so-called ambivalent Arab allies proved stalwart. The bickering European allies were supportive. The impulsive Israelis exercised noble restraint. The much maligned American Army performed brilliantly. Even Mr. “wimp-macho” George Bush turned out to be a sensational manager and orchestrator of events. 

The war has produced consequences both pleasant and unpleasant. The Iraqi Army is destroyed. The regime of Saddam Hussein and his Baath party teeters on the brink of collapse. The authority of the United Nations has been strengthened. America has been reconfirmed as the hegemonic military power in the world.  

But, on the other side, thousands of Iraqs were killed. Iraq is in economic ruin. Kuwait is a devastation. Chaos and rebellion stalk Iraq and threaten to dismember it.  

The victory has left us with so many questions.  What do we do with Iraq? Do we let Saddam Hussein stay in power? Do we allow Iraq to disintegrate into many pieces? Do we punish war crimes? How do we arrange for the destruction of chemical weapons and the payment of reparations? Will American troops have to remain to enforce the peace? 

And what about Kuwait? Will we allow the former tyrannical regime to return to full power?  Will we be able to cope with the ecological disaster of burning oil? 

And what about Israel? Will we use our new power to force a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict? Will we negotiate with Palestinian leaders who supported Saddam Hussein? So many questions need a very clear vision of the future. They need a well thought out and consistent foreign policy. Formulating it and sticking to it may be harder than waging the war. But if the wrong vision is chosen all the benefits of victory will be lost. The crucial issue right now is how America will choose to use its enormous power to ensure peace. 

Many visions have emerged as options. There is the option of revenge, which would settle merely for the punishment, humiliation and destruction of our enemies. There is the option of imperialism which would dictate our support of any regime in the Middle East that guaranteed our access to cheap oil. There is the option of pure idealism which would require us to try to establish liberal democracies in every country of the Muslim world, whether such governments are feasible or not. 

The vision that is most appealing to me, the one that mixes idealism and pragmatism, is the vision of world order. George Bush cited world order as the major reason for presenting the war against Iraq. Despite the loftiness of the title it simply means that waging war for aggressive purposes will not be allowed.  Dictators that behave, dictators that do not cross boundaries, can remain in power. We prefer democracy. We will strive to intrude democratic ideals whenever possible. But we will not insist on it. We do not have the power to arrange for democracy everywhere.  But, at this present moment, we do have the power to arrange for world order. 

What are the constituent elements of this vision?  Pursuing word order means that we freeze existing boundaries, prevent the proliferation of arms, pursue disarmament, strengthen the United Nations, work to create an effective United Nations peacekeeping force and encourage regional self-discipline.  None of this can be done by America alone.  Only the cooperation of the Great Powers, including the Soviet Union, China, Germany and Japan will make our efforts effective.  Both the new coalition against Iraq and a revived United Nations make this shared responsibility feasible. 

The option of world order is not “pie-in-the-sky”.  It is urgently needed.  And it is perfectly consistent with the vital interests of an international economy which requires peace and safety for economic stability.  Multinational corporations derive no benefit from untrammeled nationalism and aggressive war. 

What are the implications of this vision as a foreign policy, as a way of dealing with the consequences of the Iraqi war? 

It means that we applaud the ultimate fall of Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party.  It means that we offer no assistance to Shiiite fundamentalists who are seeking to replace Hussein with an Iranian style theocracy.  Another Islamic republic is not conducive to stability in the region. 

It means that we support the establishment of a coalition government in Iraq, which will reflect the interests of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.  If this coalition can be arrived at democratically all the better.  But the partition of Iraq into three independent states would only promote chaos in a Middle East where all boundaries are artificial. 

It means that we do not leave Iraq until a permanent ceasefire has been arranged, until chemical weapons have been destroyed and until an Arab peacekeeping force has been organized to police the border. 

It means that we support the establishment of Arab regional self-discipline in which the Arab victors of the war, the Egyptians, the Syrians and the Saudis, cooperate to maintain order especially in Iraq and Lebanon. 

It means that America apply (sic) pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Arab victors of the war to exchange land for peace. With Iraq out of the military way, and with Egypt having made peace with Israel, the possibility of peace with the Syrians and the Saudis is a distinct possibility. Now is the time for negotiation. The Palestinians are weak, humiliated and hated even by their Arab defenders. And Arab moderates are in the ascendancy. Once Israel establishes a basis for cooperation with the Arab moderates, she has little to fear from the Palestinians. Arab moderates may be perfectly willing to accept a Palestine federated with Jordan. In the age of missiles, the Golan Heights are less important to Israel than peace with Syria, a Syria that has no desire for an independent Palestinian state. 

It means that arms sales to Third World countries, including Middle East countries, need to be controlled through an American initiative in cooperation with the United States. Disarmament talks between the United States and the Soviet Union need to be supplemented with an international conference of arms producing nations to establish workable criteria for effective control. Arms sales cannot realistically be stopped immediately. Too many jobs depend on them. But they can be gradually scaled down through international agreement and shared sacrifice. It means that now is the time to begin the process of creating an international peacekeeping force, under the auspices of the United Nations, which can intervene effectively if future Saddam Husseins (sic) arise, and if regional forces are too weak to respond. This force will take at least ten years to develop and will require American support.  American hegemony is too expensive for America to afford. We need to share responsibility, or we shall over-reach and destroy what we have already accomplished. 

It means that we seriously develop an alternative to oil as the fuel of our economy. Given the history of technology, there is no reason to assume that such an alternative cannot be found if natural resources are united in the search. For the foreseeable future oil will be indispensable to our prosperity. But, in the end, we cannot allow the Middle East to be the arbiter of our economic fate. Nor can we afford the pollution disaster attendant on the use of oil.  

The vision of world order, if acted on, would translate the military victory in the Gulf into a real victory.