What should we do about Iraq?

by Benjamin Kuipers

We consider Saddam Hussain to be a danger to peace in the Middle East, and perhaps in the world. So do most of his Arab neighbors.

The UN has imposed an economic embargo that has had terrible impact on the Iraqi people, with whom we have very little quarrel. It has had very little effect on Saddam Hussain and his ruling clique, which is who we are trying to displace.

A major problem in the way of getting rid of Saddam Hussain is that there is no one better to replace him. We might get someone else from the same clique who is almost his clone, or we might get intergroup fighting that could destabilize the whole region. This consideration led George Bush to halt the Gulf War before toppling Hussain's regime.

While an economic embargo is arguably better than a shooting war, its effects have been devastating to the innocent people of Iraq, and it has not accomplished our goal. Cuba is a dramatic object lesson here. Our economic embargo of Cuba has essentially supported Castro's government, to the point where he is now the longest-serving head of state in the world. With the USA as a powerful external enemy, and no alternative leader in sight, the Cuban people had no choice but to continue to support Castro. The parallel with Iraq is obvious.

One might argue that the fall of the USSR is an example on the other side, where sustained military and economic pressure contributed to the downfall of Communism. However, there were important factors in the USSR that are absent in Iraq.

History's best examples of elimination of our country's enemies comes from the treatment of Germany and Japan after World War II. By contributing massively to the reconstruction of those countries, the USA turned deadly enemies into staunch allies in a relationship that is going strong after a half century.

I propose that if we want to eliminate the threat of Saddam Hussain, we should follow the model of the Marshall Plan, not the model of the Gulf War. We should contribute substantial resources to food, medicine, education, and civilian infrastructure in Iraq, making clear to the Iraqi people that we are not their enemy. Feeding and educating the Iraqi people will do more to bring about an alternative to Saddam Hussain than starving and isolating them will.

Because of the cultural and religious tensions between Muslim Iraq and the USA, it may not be possible for us to do this directly. In that case, we should find an intermediary like Egypt or Russia who can help us bring resources where they are needed.

Why should we give billions of dollars in aid to our enemy, perhaps not even getting full credit for our generosity? Because it will achieve our goals. Compared with military action, it is less expensive and more likely to succeed in eliminating our enemy as a threat, and therefore in increasing our security and that of our allies.

(Postscript: History shows that throwing money at a problem is not a magic solution. Aid is a tool that can be used well or poorly. Read The Ugly American. But also remember the successes of the Marshall Plan and the Peace Corps. It can be done right. We must do it.)

Written 10 February 1998