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
"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
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. …