Experts Inquire: Why Single out Iraq?

Article excerpt

Why now? Why Iraq?

When President Bill Clinton addressed the nation Tuesday morning, explaining why he had sent 27 cruise missiles to strike southern Iraq, the first reason the president cited was Saddam Hussein's aggression against the ethnic Kurdish citizens of his own country.

"Our missiles sent the following message to Hussein," Clinton said: "When you abuse your own people, . . . you must pay a price." The U.S. action received broad bipartisan support at home, mixed reviews abroad. Many foreign policy specialists suggested Tuesday that the United States was asking for trouble if it plans to intervene militarily whenever a country's government mistreats its own people. "Governments use force against their people routinely," said Ted Galen Carpenter, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. "The Russians did it against the Chechens and won the Clinton administration's endorsement. The Croats did it in Krajina, ousting the Serbs, and we said nothing. Our outrage is very selective indeed." The legal basis for U.S. intervention is U.N. Resolution 688, approved in April 1991, just after the Persian Gulf War. That resolution barred Iraq's air force from operating in "no-fly zones" of northern and southern Iraq; it also demanded an end to Iraq's repression of the Kurds and other minority groups and access for humanitarian relief efforts. That resolution says nothing about the use of force, however, and in the five years since its implementation, both Iran and Turkey have sent troops into that region of Iraq without setting off any international response. "The fact is there is no standard" for intervention, said Anthony H. Cordesman, a senior fellow and co-director of Middle East studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He noted that the wording of Resolution 688 was vague and that in any case, "No one envisaged at the time that this would drag on for half a decade with no effective end in sight." Cordesman also cited "the grim fact" that every day since the end of World War II, there have been at least 20 to 30 civil wars going on in the developing world. "We live in a very violent world, and that's not a new situation," Cordesman said. What is new is that with the end of the Cold War, and with it the fixation on direct threats to the United States from the old Soviet Union, Americans are suddenly far more aware of "just how violent the structure of many developing countries is. …