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.