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.