Saddam Hussein Emboldened leader of Iraq challenges America's resolve A decade ago Iraq invaded Kuwait. Operation Desert Storm in 1991 expelled Saddam Hussein's troops and left Iraq subject to an embargo that can be lifted only when the United Nations certifies that Iraq has abandoned weapons of mass destruction. Yet Saddam Hussein himself has remained in power, invulnerable, seemingly, to either internal revolt or external economic pressure.
As the war he provoked recedes into history, the coalition of Western and Arab states that once opposed him has weakened, and with it, international support for sanctions. All this has happened despite the fact that Saddam continues to torture and murder his own people and has never provided a full accounting of his proscribed weapons programs. Consequently, the United States has been obliged to acquiesce in a loosened sanctions regime that permits Saddam to sell essentially unlimited quantities of oil on the world market. When President Clinton ordered four days of air and missile strikes in December 1998 to punish Iraq for its defiance of a U.N. weapons-inspection mission, only Great Britain joined in the attack. Small wonder that, as the U.S. presidential election approaches, Saddam Hussein feels emboldened to challenge American resolve further through provocative rhetoric and behavior. In recent days, he has refused to admit a new U.N. weapons-inspection team, even though it was created under a 1999 Security Council resolution brokered by Iraq's sympathizers on the council, France and Russia, and designed to ease Iraq's path toward the lifting of the already-diluted sanctions. He has even refused entry to U.N. experts who were supposed to help Iraq assess its humanitarian needs and to facilitate the provision of food and medicine. On Labor Day, defying the U.S.- and British-patrolled no-fly zone in southern Iraq, Saddam dispatched a fighter plane to penetrate not only off-limits Iraqi air space but Saudi Arabia's air space as well. (U.S. pilots were taking the holiday off.) He has begun accusing Kuwait of extracting oil that rightfully belongs to Iraq -- one of the same charges he leveled shortly before he launched the 1990 invasion. And it has been almost two years since any outside weapons inspector set foot in Iraq, meaning Saddam has had that much time to rebuild -- and conceal -- weapons of mass destruction. The Clinton administration says that, for all his posturing, Saddam remains effectively contained, confined to his "box" by the remaining sanctions and a heavy U.S. military presence in the Gulf. But increasingly it is U.S. policy that is boxed in. The United States had to announce that it would not use force if Saddam continues to refuse to admit the weapons inspectors. Nor does the administration have any intention of investing in the Iraqi opposition, which it regards as hopelessly incompetent. Neither presidential candidate has articulated a particularly convincing way out of the current dead end. Vice President Al Gore is saddled with the Clinton administration's record, while George W. Bush is being counseled by many of the same people (most prominently his running mate, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney) who let Saddam survive in power at the end of the Persian Gulf War. Meanwhile, Russia and France are making new and increasingly craven overtures to the dictator. The West's panic over increasing oil prices only increases his leverage. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gamely pointed out that Iraq has used the U.N. oil-for-food program to import vast quantities of whiskey and other luxury items for Saddam's loyalists; there are also credible reports that Iraq has been selling food and medicine abroad while refusing humanitarian donations from Europe or letting them rot in warehouses. For all intents and purposes, however, Iraq has won that particular propaganda war. As long as Saddam Hussein remains in power, there is always the danger that Iraq will try to win a real war, too. -- Washington Post
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