Going after Saddam

By David Dolan

One of the main arguments against going after Saddam Hussein is that U.S. military action could destabilize other Arab governments around the Middle East. Anti-American street demonstrations might even lead to the collapse of moderate regimes in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere, we are warned. Various Arab officials are quoted to bolster this dire contention.

I have learned something related to this argument during my two decades as a reporter covering this volatile region: Don’t take Arab public pronouncements too seriously if you have reason to think they are mainly meant for show.

It is certainly true that anti-American feeling is strong in much of the Arab world. This has historic roots springing from the West’s colonial record in the region and, even more so, religious roots connected to the centuries-old struggle between Islam and Christianity. Popular Arab opinion of the freedom-loving USA was not enhanced when Harry Truman became the first world leader to diplomatically recognize the re-born Jewish state in 1948, nor by ongoing American support for Israel since then.

But Saddam is no saint, and most Arabs know that, even if only some will admit it. The tiny Gulf sheikdoms and Saudi Arabia have just as many reasons to distrust the Iraqi despot’s intentions today as they did in 1990. The same goes for non-Arab Iran and Turkey, not to mention Israel.

Fellow Arab rogue states like Syria, Sudan and Libya – along with the terror groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah – are about the only ones who might really miss Saddam if he is blasted from his dictatorial throne. After all, they look relatively moderate when compared with the brutal Butcher of Baghdad (well, maybe not Hamas, which likes to murder with abandon even more than Saddam does). We would all have reason to celebrate if a U.S. military attack on Iraq led to, for instance, Col. Khadafi’s overthrow, or the ouster of the Assad regime in Damascus.

But the collapse of radical Arab governments is not the real concern. The warnings are mainly focused on U.S. allies Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan. There is little doubt that once American guns start firing, if not before, Saddam will try once again to rally Muslim support by attacking Israel. Street demonstrations in support of such action can certainly be expected in Cairo and Amman, not to mention in Yasser Arafat’s towns. But that hardly means the two pro-American leaders will be overthrown. Both command reliable security forces that are well versed in riot control.

Actually, there is indeed a severe danger concerning Jordan. A majority of its citizens, of Palestinian origin, can be expected to strongly back a repeat Iraqi attack upon the despised Jewish state. On the other hand, doing nothing against Saddam while he continues his military recovery from the Mother of All Battles is a certain recipe for eventual disaster in neighboring Jordan. The more power the Iraqi strongman acquires, the more of a threat he will pose to the trembling King Abdullah.

Like many people around the world, the Arabs I personally know – that is quite a few folks – tend to respect power above all else. This may help explain why the introduction of American wrestling on CBN’s Middle East television station in southern Lebanon some years back proved to be a huge success among Arab viewers around the region. If Saddam is allowed to pump up his muscles to rival Jesse Ventura, he will get all the more cheers from ringside Arab observers. But if George W. instead demonstrates that his morning workouts have added more girth than Saddam possesses, Arab public opinion will largely respect that, if begrudgingly.

The bottom line is this: Since we didn’t do it the first time when we had a better excuse, Saddam will have to be dealt with sooner or later. Every day that goes by is another day that he can use to build up his arsenal of non-conventional weapons, his armed forces, his missile supplies, etc. The easing of restrictions on the sale of Iraqi oil has greatly greased his rearmament program, even though that was not the intention of world leaders who are apparently more concerned with starving Iraqi children than Saddam is.

There will certainly be some negative fallout (hopefully not nuclear fallout) from a U.S. military strike on Iraq. The unpleasant consequences may even include the overthrow of King Abdullah, along with other unwanted “collateral damage.” But let’s get real: Doing nothing now only means having to do it later, when the bully will definitely be bigger. Hopefully, George Junior will not repeat his father’s 1991 mistake, and the job will be finished this time – painful as that might be.