Saddam Hussein has a mistress. Many past U.S. presidents have had mistresses. Saddam has wiped out portions of the indigenous Kurdish population. Many past U.S. presidents have wiped out segments of our indigenous population. Saddam invaded his neighbor Kuwait. The U.S. invaded its neighbor Mexico. Saddam abandoned Kuwait without keeping any of its territory. The U.S. abandoned Mexico without. . .
Okay, maybe there is at least one difference between our countries. But if we hadn’t stolen Texas, Lyndon Johnson, Jorge Bush and Jorge “Doble V” Bush would have been el presidente de Mexico rather than president of the United States. So while I personally oppose territorial theft, in that one instance it worked out best, in the long run, for mankind (unless you happen to be Vietnamese).
My point is that our cavalcade of leaders have so much in common with Saddam that it’s a shame to see him and our current president at loggerheads. Can’t they both just get along?
In a word, yes. Let’s forget about the two bad options currently on the
table: (1) bloody invasion and regime change, or (2) intrusive weapons inspections sure to provoke ugly, back-and-forth accusations of cheating and spying. Instead, let us consider a solution that may seem “outside the box” but is in fact “inside the beltway,” for it is steeped in the tried-and-true bipartisan philosophy of “realpolitik”: the notion that nations don’t have “friends,” they have “interests.” Let us consider the restoration of the U.S.-Saddam alliance.
The U.S. has an interest in — nay, a need for — a proxy enforcer in the Gulf region. We need a strong, secular leader to protect U.S. interests generally and stop the spread of militant Islamic fundamentalism particularly. Iran can’t play that role; its ayatollahs preach the very philosophy we oppose. The Wahabi-promoting Saudis clearly aren’t the answer. Turkey displayed potential and the requisite brutality throughout the 1990s, but now it’s hellbent on joining the European Union and must behave in ways acceptable to Swedes.
Saddam, on the other hand, is a proven performer. Throughout the 1980s, the heyday of U.S.-Iraqi cooperation, realpolitik underpinned the relationship. In that glorious decade Saddam unleashed his share of conventional and chemical weapons, but only on targets U.S. intelligence helped Iraq to select and against people who merited their mustardy fate.
An otherwise perfect system had one flaw: target approval was given verbally or implicitly by U.S. officials below the presidential level — at times acting without presidential guidance. This was an accident waiting to happen, as the slightest miscommunication or misunderstanding could lead to an attack on an unapproved target. That’s just what happened in the summer of 1990: The U.S. Ambassador told Saddam that the Bush (41) administration took no position on Iraq’s border dispute with Kuwait. Saddam misinterpreted the statement as a green light to invade.
Soon, the beautiful U.S.-Iraq relationship was kaput. But it can be resurrected with a simple procedural correction: Saddam may not invade a neighbor without the permission of the U.S. president — permission that must be granted in person and sealed with a handshake.
“Presidential permission,” rather than “regime change,” should be the Bush 43 slogan. In fact, it should be more than a slogan: It should be codified in a treaty signed by Saddam and Bush and ratified by the Iraqi Parliament and U.S. Senate.
Saddam would return to his pre-1990 role as Uncle Sam’s secular stopper. He would be free to use conventional weapons on domestic foes, but if he wants to use conventional or massively destructive weapons beyond Iraq’s borders, he must wait for the thumbs-up and crunching handshake from the fittest president since JFK.
Prior to the cowboy Reagan administration, “in-person presidential permission” was the operative arrangement between the U.S. and its regional enforcers. For example, when Suharto of Indonesia decided in 1975 to take over East Timor, he didn’t act until President Gerald Ford visited Jakarta and gave him the go-ahead.
It was a great system then; it can be a great system now.
Who might we want Saddam to hit? For starters, the Iraqi Kurdish faction that embarrassed Vice President Dick Cheney by refusing to visit Washington for a photo-op pow-wow of Iraqi oppositionists. Also, that anti-Saddam fundamentalist Kurdish faction that’s hosting al-Qaida terrorists in a remote corner of Iraq. And let’s not forget the Turkish Kurds and the Arab “street.” It’s a given they’re gonna need an occasional whack.
Only one factor prevents President Bush from reaching out to Saddam:
fear of political death from a thousand pecks. The chicken-hawk pundits — the fiercest fowls ever to duck military service — simply must be co-opted. Bush can do just that by establishing a “Council of Chicken Hawk Advisers.” Not only would they help Bush and Saddam pick targets for Iraqi assaults, they’d get to rub elbows with real live U.S. and Iraqi generals.
The CCHA would be comprised of William Safire, William Kristol, Fred Barnes, Brit Hume, Morton Kondracke and these columnists from “the liberal Washington Post”: George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Kelly, Jim Hoagland, Lally Weymouth, Robert Kagan, Fred Hiatt, Jackson Diehl and Sebastian Mallaby.
A few chicken hawks might be reluctant to serve, but any resistance will surely melt when they learn they’ll receive — and be permitted to wear in public — what for decades they’ve secretly, desperately yearned for:
their very own military uniform.
Come to think of it, our president is a chicken hawk. Maybe we can get him fitted, too.
Dennis Hans is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York
Times, Washington Post, National Post (Canada) and online at TomPaine.com, Slate
and The Black World Today (tbwt.com), among other outlets. He has taught courses
in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South
Florida-St. Petersburg, and can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu.
©2002 by Dennis Hans