by Eric Margolis © 1998 Eric Margolis
NEW YORK - Last week, as the US was once again threatening to bomb Iraq back to the stone age `for endangering world peace,' Washington quietly announced it would proceed with an incredible US $4.6 billion aid package for Stalinist North Korea. American taxpayers, Japan and S. Korea are paying for this deal, which includes two nuclear reactors, years of free oil, and food.
Iraq is a nasty state run by a vicious regime. Even so, Iraq currently threatens no one, save its own tormented people. The UN has declared Iraq nuclear free. Iraq may have secreted small quantities of chemical or bio weapons, but it lacks the means to effectively deliver them.
Remember, as we listen to Washington and London howl about Saddam's `terror weapons,' that the US, Britain and Europe helped Saddam Hussein develop his gas and germ weapons. My 1990 reports from Baghdad revealed how a secret contingent of British scientists were manufacturing anthrax and botulism outside Basra, Iraq - with London's approval. The west encouraged Iraq to use poison gas and toxins against Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War. Iraq's germ stocks came from the USA.
Now look at North Korea. The dangerous, semi-demented regime in Pyongyang constantly threatens to invade South Korea, `burn Seoul with fire'(ie use chemicals/nukes against city of 11 million), has 2-3 operational nuclear weapons, armed forces of 1.2-million men, and a huge chemical/ biological warfare arsenal, deliverable by thousands of missiles.
North Korea incessantly threatens `to exterminate' 37,000 US troops based in South Korea and has targeted US bases in Okinawa and Japan for attack by chemical-armed missiles and/or commandos. All Japan is now in range of North Korea's Nodong-1 missile, as was dramatically demonstrated recently when Pyongyang launched a missile right over northern Japan. US experts say nuclear-armed North Korea missiles may be able to hit Hawaii and Alaska in three years.
President Clinton's response to North Korea's very real threats? A $4.6 billion be-good bribe.
Look, next, at Serbia. The outlaw regime of war criminal Slobodan Milosevic committed the worst atrocities in Europe since Nazi Germany. Serbia has a large arsenal of chemical and biological weapons,and has repeatedly threatened, if bombed, to launch missiles at Western Europe, and to attack US forces in Bosnia and the Adriatic.
Washington's response? Play footsie with Milosevic by giving him half of Bosnia, and helping him hold on to rebellious Kosova. Milosevic has become Washington's key ally in the Balkans. Note: Serb forces killed 250,000 civilians in Bosnia and Kosova. Saddam's army killed 500 people invading Kuwait.
So why not bribe Saddam Hussein to be good - just like horrid North Korea? Why not make a deal with Saddam, as with Milosevic, to promote `stability?' After all, a chaotic, post-Saddam Iraq will likely be far more dangerous to the Mideast than today's nasty, but quiescent Iraq. One gets the impression that under the Powell Doctrine, fashioned during the 1991 Gulf War, the US military is only to be used against nations that cannot fight back. Serbia and North Korea do not fit this list.
A second answer is oil and domestic politics. Saddam cannot be forgiven for challenging America's Mideast Oil Raj and attacking Kuwait, a US protectorate. Washington's Arab oil clients don't want to see Iraq resume pumping. Iraq has the Mideast's second largest petroleum reserves after Saudi Arabia. Already depressed oil prices will fall sharply if Iraq resumes full-time exporting. The embargo on Iraq keeps oil prices up, keeps US client regimes in power, and allows them to buy more arms from the US and Europe.
Domestic politics are equally important. Saddam Hussein was so demonized by President George Bush - who preposterously called him `a second Hitler'- that no president can now be seen to make a deal with the Iraqi leader. Being `soft on Saddam' is the kiss of death in American politics, where Muslim malefactors have replaced the old Red Peril as America's favorite villains.
Iraq is no danger to the US, but it offers some potential threat to Israel, as its 1991 missile attacks against Israel showed. Still, Israel's extensive chemical and biological warfare arsenal is the Mideast's largest - probably larger than all the region' states combined. Israel is also the Mideast's sole nuclear power, with 200-400 weapons. Any Iraq gas or germ attack on Israel would trigger an immediate Israeli nuclear strike that would eradicate Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
Pro-Israel groups in the US, however, have been panicked into believing Israel is in mortal danger from Iraq. As a result, the White House is being pressed by the formidable Israel lobby to demolish Iraq and keep it demolished, even if this means quarterly bombings.
Ironically, before the 1991 oil war, some Israeli strategists considered Saddam pragmatic, and amenable to making a deal with Israel - particularly an alliance against their mutual foe, Syria.
Saddam cares only about power and his own skin. Saddam would as likely deal with Israel as anyone else, provided he profited from it. Even an Iraqi-Israeli pact aimed against Iran is possible. There are no absolutes in the labyrinthine Mideast.
Feelgood bombing of Iraq is not strategy. It is childish petulance, expressed with B-52's. Saddam's last-second volte face once again wrong-footed Washington and showed the inherent bankruptcy of US policy towards Iraq, which goes no further than making the rubble bounce and trying to assassinate Saddam.
Brainpower, not firepower, is needed. If the US can sup with the devil in North Korea or Serbia, why not Iraq? After all, Saddam used to be the West's favorite Mideast SOB. Why not again? If the west can't find a more amenable dictator to run Iraq, then it may have to learn to live with horrid Saddam.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]
Copyright © 1998 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved