‘Fatal Attraction’? US Interests In Gulf, Beyond Jeopardized By Bush Personal Diplomacy Obsession

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President Bush’s fixation with personal diplomacy reached new heights — and threatened to plunge U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf crisis to new depths — with his announcement yesterday that he was prepared to open a high level dialogue with Saddam Hussein. By offering to meet personally with the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz, and by proposing to dispatch the Secretary of State to Baghdad, President Bush has probably still further reduced his already limited latitude for necessary military action.

"In initiating diplomatic contacts with the man he has likened to Hitler, President Bush has fallen prey to the very pressures and temptations that sent Neville Chamberlain to Munich in 1939," said Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., the Center’s director. "However much his intentions might be otherwise, the practical effect of the President’s initiative will be to embolden Saddam Hussein, to inflame growing congressional and public opposition to the military option and to encourage already skittish allies in the anti-Iraq coalition to regard Saddam as a likely survivor — if not victor — in this crisis, a man with whom they would be well advised to come to terms as quickly as possible."

Gaffney added, "By agreeing to hold direct U.S.-Iraqi talks and especially by refusing to define these meetings as simply the occasion for delivering an ultimatum, President Bush has created a diplomatic Frankenstein. The monster is known in the trade as a ‘process.’ Once created, public opinion, congressional sentiment and allied pressures will make it exceedingly difficult for the Bush Administration to withdraw from this process — even if it wanted to — without a negotiated settlement."

The Center for Security Policy believes that the only sort of negotiatedsolution; instead, it would be a disaster for U.S. vital interests in the region and for its friends and allies there. While such a settlement could conceivably result in a temporary Iraqi retreat from Kuwait, even a restoration of the status quo ante will not "solve" the present problem. Instead, it will simply postpone the day when American forces will have to be committed to resist Saddam Hussein’s renewed aggression — and, in so doing, it will greatly increase the costs of such a conflict. settlement remotely likely is one that would leave Saddam Hussein in power, in absolute control of his country and with an immense arsenal — including weapons of mass destruction — at his disposal. Such a settlement would be no

The Center views President Bush’s decision to create a process that probably will produce these dreadful results as symptomatic of the problem arising from his Administration’s attachment to personal diplomacy. This affliction causes him to seek a personal explanation for Saddam’s refusal to quit Kuwait, rather than appreciate the larger geostrategic imperatives at work. Similarly, it prompts the President to look for a personal remedy rather than recognize the unavoidable requirement for force.

Accordingly, Mr. Bush contends that the present impasse is a product of the Iraqi leader’s inability to get an accurate reading of Washington’s intentions. He concludes that the way to fix that is to get the word directly from Messrs. Bush and Baker.

The Center for Security Policy believes, however, that neither the personal diplomat’s analysis of the problem nor his proposed solution stand up to scrutiny:

The Real Reason Saddam Is Not Backing Down: Saddam Hussein has access to a variety of sources of information; he is reportedly nearly as avid a monitor of CNN as is President Bush for news of world events and the state of American attitudes about the Gulf crisis. The fact is that Saddam Hussein is a man whose own physical survival — to say nothing of his continued hold on political power — has depended for decades upon his ability to read his opponents’ intentions correctly and to act accordingly.

Given Saddam Hussein’s impressive track record in a very tough league, it might just be that he — not President Bush — has correctly assessed the prospects for life-threatening attacks against his country. Evidently, he feels that even if force is used against him, it will be directed against his troops in Kuwait and exercised with a view to restoring the status quo ante, leaving him with the opportunity and the wherewithal to fight another day. Unfortunately, it seems likely that the President’s decision to receive and send emissaries will reinforce Saddam’s judgment that neither the United States nor its allies have the stomach for even that much of a fight.

Why Baker Is Unlikely to Fix the Real Problem: Saddam Hussein’s apparent attitude seems to have been unaffected by Secretary Baker’s global wheeling and dealing leading up to the U.N. Security Council resolution on the use of force to liberate Kuwait. The Iraqi leader probably concluded that the backroom sweetheart deals cut by Secretary of State Baker — himself a personal diplomacy enthusiast — produced votes that said less about international solidarity against Iraq than it did about the Bush Administration’s willingness to pay any price to secure the desired outcome.

The price included Washington’s willingness to look the other way on domestic repression being perpetrated by its interlocutors and: to waive the Jackson-Vanik amendment and offer billions of dollars in credits and aid (from both U.S. taxpayers and Gulf States) for the Soviet Union; to arrange a trade delegation and White House meetings for China; to initiate renewed direct contacts at the level of foreign ministers for Cuba; and to restore full diplomatic relations with Ethiopia. Non-members of the Security Council also cashed in on the U.S. personal diplomats’ single-minded pursuit of the appearance of a united front against Iraq. Syria, Jordan, Germany and Japan are among those who have received favorable treatment from the Bush Administration in recent days on issues of political and economic concern.

As long as Saddam Hussein believes that his allies and friends will not support American attacks that entail going beyond the status quo ante and as long as he judges that the United States will not unilaterally undertake such attacks against himself and his country, he is unlikely to view the Baker-Bush threats seriously. If anything, he may even take perverse pleasure from the success of his fellow repressors who are using the present crisis so successfully to dun the United States.

For all these reasons, the Center renews its call for the Bush Administration to make the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime and its power projection capabilities the clear object of American policy. Direct contacts with the Iraqi regime, if they are to be had at all, should be for no other purpose than to convey this message.

Simply put, Messrs. Bush and Baker should offer their Iraqi interlocutors a final opportunity to achieve at minimal cost to the Iraqi people and nation the only "solution" of this crisis likely to produce a genuine and lasting reduction in the danger of war in the region: They must demand the removal of Saddam Hussein and his ruling clique from power and a verifiable end to Iraq’s abilities to threaten militarily its neighbors and U.S. interests.

The Center also calls on the legislative branch to engage in a comprehensive review of the mounting costs of the Bush Administration’s obsession with personal diplomacy. In particular, it encourages members of Congress in hearings scheduled for next week to examine with care the true price of — and the tangible benefits achieved by — the many packages of concessions the Bush Administration has showered upon friends and adversaries alike over the past few weeks in the name of maintaining the cohesiveness of the anti-Iraq coalition.

Center for Security Policy

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