If the “new world order” of the flighty imagination of Mr Bush was a non-starter, his concept of “collective security” outside of well-defined alliance systems may also be consigned to the dust-bin. Indeed, the irony of it all is that the bloated rhetoric of both the “new world order” and the UN-supervised “collective security” system were products of the same strange event, Saddam Hussein’s refusal to take various available opportunities to withdraw from Kuwait when it should have been obvious to him that his reading of US “signals” had turned out to be mistaken and that, in place of the US acquiescence he had anticipated, he was faced with US determination to punish him for his ‘effrontery’.
The talk of a “new world order” was a joke from the very start in view not only of America’s own economic troubles, as reflected in the budget deficit (around $300 billion), trade deficit (around $400 billion) and debt (around $4 trillion), and other problems but also of the impending collapse of the Soviet system. The bankruptcy of the Communist system was patent by 1990 even if it was possible to “hope against hope” that the union would survive in some drastically modified form. And one did not need to be a leader of the most powerful country in history in possession of unmatched sources of information to recognise that the disintegration of the Soviet system would unleash forces of chaos of unknown intensity and proportions. Caution would have been in order in Washington. That, however, is not an American “weakness”.
As it happens, the concept of a UN-supervised “collective security” system is also the product of the same almost limitless American capacity for “optimism”. After all, it was a leading American who popularised the view that a world government was both necessary and possible, though it must also be admitted that the would-be first prime minister of Independent India too bought this extraordinary proposition. Even so, it was truly “remarkable” for an occupant of the White House to believe that the amorphous body called the UN could enforce “collective security”. Even if that was no more than a cover for trying to convert the UN into a US instrument, the choice of the Gulf as the place to begin the experiment was inept. Failure was certain; it has duly materialised.
The news is not that President Saddam Hussein has survived. For that was not seriously in question once the war was over with him in office. The news is that the US has no viable Iraq policy. The show and use of force by Mr Bush in his last weeks in the White House to deal with provocations deliberately staged by Saddam Hussein only helped underline this reality. His actions, straight out of Hollywood westerns, did not constitute policy. At best, they were an ad hoc response. They did not terrorise Saddam Hussein who was obviously prepared for the limited bombing raids; they terrorised his Arab allies and friends already fearful of their people and they made it known to Washington. An article entitled “The lion and the wolf’ in the New Statesman & Society (January 22) provides interesting quotations from the Arab press.
Issues are again being mixed up. Israel’s action in expelling 415 Palestinians suspected of being members and supporters of the terrorist organisation Hamas responsible for kidnapping, killing and attacking Israeli policemen, however useful to Arabs for propaganda purposes, is not at the heart of the confusion and uncertainty in the Gulf. Iran’s acquisition of submarines and other sophisticated weapons, occupation of disputed islands, and stepped up support for fundamentalist and terrorist organisations operating in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, among others, are.
Iraq cannot possibly provide the answer to Iranian moves. It cannot match Iran’s military prowess unless at least the sanctions are lifted; even in that unlikely event, it cannot cancel out Iranian support to fundamentalists. But sanctions, whatever the reasons for their continuance, certainly facilitate Teheran’s task in emerging as the dominant local power in the region. Iraq’s dismemberment could clinch the issue in Iran’s favour.
Economic Times, 19 February 1993