Permanent Iraqi entanglement unacceptable
In early October, tensions erupted between Iran and Iraq when the Iranian Air Force bombed rebel groups in the "no-fly zone" in northern Iraq. The Iraqi Air Force responded and the Clinton administration issued a stern warning to both sides about the dangers of violating the no-fly zone. Unfortunately, the most recent eruption in tensions is only the latest chapter in what has become a major pain in the side of U.S. foreign policy in the Gulf region.
While the present administration certainly deserves criticism for much of its foreign policy, it has inherited a messy Iran-Iraq-Turkey conflict that is not entirely Clinton's fault. The Gulf situation can be described as a "tar baby;" it looks easy to tackle, but the more you punch it, the more it sticks to you and the harder it is to escape.
The Gulf War was supposed to be simple. The mission was promoted as a quick in-and-out operation to free Kuwait from Iraqi control, restore the balance of power in the Middle East, maintain the free flow of oil and protect our allies. In this context, many people rightly agreed Desert Storm was a prudent operation. But former President George Bush allowed the United States to be drawn into a peace-keeping operation to protect the Kurds in northern Iraq, and the no-fly zone was established to prevent Iraqi air raids against the Kurds. What was supposed to be a simple military operation has now become an entanglement that is a significant drag on U.S. foreign policy.
Now, Clinton has been left holding the bag. Not only has Iran made military incursions into northern Iraq to quash rebels, but our ally Turkey has as well. Iraq feels it is being singled out, and its concerns are not entirely invalid. The United States has made sure Iraq does not have the ability to send in troops to the Kurdish north or Shiite south, but Iran and Turkey have been infringing upon Iraqi sovereignty as well. While the United States did rightfully condemn Iranian incursions into Iraqi territory, it has been too quiet on Turkish encroachment on Iraqi soil. Such policy makes the United States look inconsistent.
Clinton was on target when he ordered the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to the Gulf to beef up U.S. military presence in the region. The last thing we need is for Iran and Iraq to restart the bloody war that lasted from 1980 to 1988. By expanding United States' presence in the region, both Iran and Iraq can be deterred from escalating military maneuvers, and a conflict would be easier to avoid.
But the addition of the Nimitz is only a band-aid solution; it does not offer an acceptable or even tolerable solution to all parties involved. As long as Turkey is allowed to infringe on Iraqi sovereignty without a U.S. response, Iran, and especially Iraq, will feel slighted. It doesn't make sense, nor is it consistent, for the United States to keep Iraq from using its military on its own soil but allow Turkey to violate Iraqi sovereignty with impunity.
Of course, wholesale slaughter of Kurdish civilians is unacceptable, and any method by which the United States tries to extricate itself from this entanglement must take into consideration the potential danger to the Kurds from the Iraqi army. But the United States has been engaged in doublespeak here, since its actions have led many Kurds to believe the United States supports the establishment of a Kurdish state. When we refuse to allow Iraqi military operations to take place on Iraqi soil and set up means for autonomous rule in Kurdistan, yet deny we want to break up Iraq into two states, it makes U.S. policy look rudderless. To some extent, it is.
Such a withdrawal of involvement in northern Iraq is rife with problems. Leaving might produce a worse situation than we have now, but we also don't want to be engaged in this peace-keeping mission for the foreseeable future with no means of escape and no declaration of victory. It is a difficult decision and we don't have all the answers. But, we need to find a better policy than what we have now.
In addition, we must be very careful with regard to the buildup of weapons of mass destruction in both Iran and Iraq. Iran could be very close to developing a nuclear bomb with the help of Russia, and a situation in which Iran and Iraq use weapons of mass destruction on Israel or on each other must be avoided by all means possible. With this element of the Gulf situation in mind, the United States cannot shrink from military involvement in the Persian Gulf region, in terms of protecting our allies and interests and preventing a war.
Clinton has seemed obsessed with his "legacy" since his second term began. What better legacy would there be for Clinton, than to lead the United States out of this entanglement?