The Enforcer

Stephen Sackur

  • Deterring Democracy by Noam Chomsky
    Vintage, 453 pp, £7.99, April 1992, ISBN 0 09 913501 9
  • Illusions of Triumph: An Arab View of the Gulf War by Mohamed Heikal
    HarperCollins, 350 pp, £16.99, April 1992, ISBN 0 00 255014 8
  • The Imperial Temptation by Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson
    Council on Foreign Relations Press, 240 pp, $22.50, June 1992, ISBN 0 87609 118 4

Saddam Hussein might yet win the US Presidential election. Not for himself of course – not even the failings of the American democratic system could give the Iraqi Ba’ath Party transatlantic popular appeal – but for the Democratic challenger, and current frontrunner, Bill Clinton. Had he been hired by the Democratic campaign President Saddam could scarcely have done more to tarnish George Bush’s reputation for foreign policy know-how. Almost every day, it seems, new evidence emerges of Iraq’s continued defiance of Gulf War ceasefire resolutions, whether it is the hampering of humanitarian efforts in the Kurdish north, the hiding of weapons in Baghdad or the killing of benighted Shi’ites in the southern marshes. And as Saddam’s image grows ever more grotesque in the eyes of the world, so does George Bush acquire the shrivelled, haunted demeanour of a beaten man.

The desperate logic of America’s sound-bite democracy means that between now and polling day Bush might try to revive his flagging popularity by resuming military strikes against the man he now refers to as the ‘Merchant of Death’. But if American lives were to be lost as a consequence, the electoral damage would be unconfined. Only the killing (or ‘icing’, to use current CIA parlance) of Saddam himself offers the real prospect of a Bush political resurrection. ‘Victory in the Gulf’ – the basis of the incumbent’s foreign policy sales pitch – has soured not just because Saddam Hussein is still able to practise his thuggery, but also because the full extent of US support for the Ba’ath regime has only come to light in recent months. As a result, Americans, many of whom were wholehearted supporters of Operation Desert Storm, are wondering who was fooling whom in those days of innocence before August 1990 when President Saddam was just another strategic ally.

Suppose, for example, that Saddam Hussein had not ordered his troops into Kuwait on 2 August. Imagine instead that the Iraqis had won concessions from their Kuwaiti brothers after a summer of diplomatic wrangling. New agreements would have ensured that Kuwait stuck to its OPEC oil-production quotas; the al-Sabah family would have freed the Iraqi regime from responsibility for the repayment of billions of dollars given to Baghdad during the Gulf War with Iran. Who knows, the Kuwaitis might have agreed, after substantial pressure from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world, to allow the Iraqis to lease the disputed islands of Warba and Bubiyan – thereby giving the Iraqi Government the chance to build new port facilities at the head of the Gulf. There were dozens of Arab diplomatic initiatives in the early summer of 1990, aimed at achieving just such a compromise between Iraq and Kuwait. President Mubarak of Egypt, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and King Hussein of Jordan were all convinced that the rising tension between Baghdad and Kuwait City could be defused. Saddam Hussein proved them wrong. As at every other defining moment in his career, he relied on the politics of brute force to achieve his ends.

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in