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(09/22/2002 - Prestowitz) Gunnin' For Hussein

Gunnin' for Hussein   
By Clyde Prestowitz
22 September 2000
The Chicago Tribune
(Copyright (c) 2002, Chicago Tribune)

If President Bush wants a war to unseat Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he needs the United Nations' backing, an awareness of what war will do to our allies, and a sensitivity to the price paid by U.S. t

September 22, 2002

"If you attack Iraq without adequate United Nations authorization, Indonesia and Malaysia will blow up. With the UN you can manage it. Without the UN it will be a disaster."

Those words, spoken by a prominent Southeast Asian leader at a recent conference on anti-Americanism sponsored by the State Department, were echoed by other participants from virtually every part of the globe and should serve as a reality check for Congress as it considers a possible resolution authorizing a U.S. attack on Iraq.

In the wake of President Bush's appeal to the United Nations to enforce its resolutions calling for Iraq to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction, a great debate has erupted on U.S. editorial pages and within the Democratic and Republican Parties over how long to wait for the UN to act and under what circumstances the United States should be prepared to move without UN authorization and support.

As this debate moves to Congress in the next few weeks, it is critically important for that largely parochial body to gain some inkling of how the rest of the world feels about America and how it might react to a solely American show in Iraq.

Representing a cross section of government, academic and media experts from around the world, conference participants emphasized that sentiment about America has changed dramatically since the outpouring of support that flowed in the immediate wake of Sept. 11.

Then, as American Embassies around the world were buried in flowers, and as candlelight vigils in Tehran were accompanied by expressions of sympathy and support from Chinese President Jiang Zemin, French flags flew at half-staff along the Seine in Paris.

Now, an instinctive affection overseas for Americans as people and an admiration for American institutions and values is being soured by policies and attitudes that conference participants said seem at odds with what the United States has preached in the past as well as with the interests of much of the rest of the world.

Foreign concerns about the United States cover a broad range of issues, but four stand out.

First, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the United States is seen by most foreign observers to be favoring Israel. This, coupled with much U.S. media commentary that seems to link Islam and extremism, has inflamed anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world by creating the impression that America is attacking Islam itself.

Second, America's attitude toward its allies is often seen as inconsistent and self-serving.

Pakistan, for example, has sometimes felt like a tennis ball as it bounced from being a fast friend during the Cold War to the object of harsh criticism for lack of progress on democracy to being a fast friend again when needed for support of the U.S. strike against Afghanistan and then back to the doghouse again for its conflict with India over Kashmir.

Third, there is also widespread dismay over U.S. unilateralism as demonstrated by U.S. rejection of international treaties such as the Kyoto agreement on global warming, the international agreement to ban chemical and biological weapons, the treaty limiting exports of small arms, the agreement banning use of land mines, and the International Criminal Court, all of which the United States played a large role in initiating.

Many longtime friends of America feel the United States is reneging on its obligations as a global citizen and turning its back on the whole notion of a global system based on the rule of law and multilateral institutions it has championed since the end of World War II.

This fear is exacerbated by the fourth issue of concern, which is the new doctrine of pre-emptive attack.

No nation in history has had the relative power of the United States, and this power has accrued at a moment when the world has shrunk so that the might of America is omnipresent. Even a benign hegemon with that much power is frightening. A hegemon of such enormousness that baldly commits itself to pre-emptive action as it sees fit is frightening.

All of these concerns become fused in the case of Iraq.

While there is no love in the Muslim world for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Washington's threats of an attack to achieve regime change are interpreted as just more evidence of American hostility to Islam. Yes, people know Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, but so, they note, do many other nations, including China, North Korea, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran and Israel.

And yes, they know Iraq is in violation of UN resolutions, but so is Israel.

So why is the U.S. focus only on Iraq, they ask. In the Muslim world, the answer is obvious: U.S. hatred of Islam. There is also fear of American inconsistency. Yes, people know Hussein gassed his own population, but the United States voiced no outrage at the time. Indeed, it continued to back Iraq as a bulwark against Iran.

Will America flip-flop again at some time in the future, leaving its allies in the lurch? Finally, there is fear of setting a dangerous precedent in terms of international law. If the United States decides unilaterally to remove Hussein today, whom will it target tomorrow? Are only countries that embrace Western values to be tolerated?

All these fears are generating opposition to U.S. action against Iraq that can be assuaged only by clear UN backing. Even longtime U.S. allies like Germany are firmly insisting that they will provide no assistance to a U.S. action against Iraq unless it is on the basis of UN authorization.

Rather than being an obstacle, the UN could be an opportunity for the United States.

As one UN ambassador at the conference emphasized: "No country wants to endanger its bilateral relations with America over multilateral institutional matters. The United States can get the blessing it needs if it will only ask."

As evidence of this, he noted that the Security Council had recently granted the United States certain exemptions from the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court despite initial opposition by all the non-U.S. members of the council.

In view of this, Congress would be wise to consider the possibility that the fastest and easiest road to Baghdad lies through New York and the UN Security Council and to craft its resolution with that in mind.

Clyde Prestowitz is president of the Economic Strategy Institute in Washington

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