US Hangs Onto The Devil They Know

By Ayad Al Qazzaz

In January the United States marked the first anniversary of the Gulf War. President Bush told the American public that the Gulf War had not been against the Iraqi people but against the "little" dictator Saddam Hussein. Yet Hussein is still in power, enjoying all the amenities of modern life. I argue that the real target of the Gulf War was not Hussein but the infrastructure of Iraq, with its capacity to make Iraq a major player in the Gulf region.

U.S. officials discuss publicly some of the reasons why they did not pursue the removal of Saddam from power. They say that getting rid of Saddam would have prolonged the war, with negative consequences domestically and internationally. They say it would have meant more American casualties, potential splits in the Coalition forces, and increased anger among the Arab masses. World opinion might have responded negatively to this expansion of the war objectives beyond the U.N. resolution to liberate Kuwait. And replacing Saddam with a new government would have meant lengthening the stay of the U.S. forces to prop it up. Such a move would have been fraught with dangers, including resentment against the U.S. both in Iraq and the region, and an escalation of costs.

There are other reasons which U.S. officials do not discuss publicly but that were, in my opinion, instrumental in discouraging the U.S. from removing Saddam from power.

  1. The United States likes to have a villain to justify its actions. Saddam will make it easier for the U.S. government to justify to Congress and the American public the sale of over $13 billion in arms to the Gulf countries. Similarly, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf countries can more easily justify signing military treaties with Washington if Saddam is still in power.
  2. Saddam in power can continue to be blamed for the human tragedy of the Gulf War.
  3. The U.S. can continue to dictate the terms of surrender, impose compensation, and maintain the sanctions as long as Saddam is in power. At this juncture it is neither in the U.S. interest nor in that of the Gulf countries to allow Iraq to export oil. The oil market is glutted and prices are unstable. An additional two million barrels of oil a day would lead to a sharp drop in the oil prices to less than $18 a barrel. Such a drop would hurt the U.S. domestic oil industry and worsen the American recession.
  4. Toothless Saddam in power will absolve the U.S. from any sense of obligation to help rebuild and reconstruct what we destroyed during the Gulf War.
  5. For the U.S., a swordless Saddam is a better alternative than a truly democratic government representing the will and interests of the people. Whenever Iraqis have a true opportunity to express themselves in an election, they tend to elect representatives who oppose Western domination.
  6. Saddam in power will keep Iran from being dismembered. A disintegration of Iraq could be a destabilizing force in the region. If the Kurds establish their own independent state in the northern part of Iraq, it will encourage the Kurds in Turkey and Iran to do likewise. If the Muslim Shia of Iraq formed a separate Islamic state, it probably would ally with Iran against America's conservative friends in the region.

There is no viable alternative to Saddam in the aftermath of the Gulf War. There are over twenty opposition groups, whose ideologies range from extreme left to extreme right, with no outstanding charismatic leader who may command the respect and the backing of the Iraqi people.

Nevertheless, the U.S. preference for Saddam may be waning. Because the Democrats are beginning to use Saddam's comfortable survival in power as a political issue in this election year, Bush is going to have to do something about the matter, whether he likes it or not, Saddam is becoming a liability.

Ayad al-Qazzaz is a sociology professor at California State University in Sacramento.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1992

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1992, page 14. Some rights reserved.

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