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
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
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
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