Ever since the end of the Gulf War, Iraq has made diplomacy the extension of war by other means. As a result, the Gulf War has been replaced by a new kind of conflict: a ‘‘war of sanctions.’’ This conflict is a struggle between Iraq and the United Nations (UN) in which Iraq struggles to break out of the controls and sanctions the UN established as part of the cease-fire in the Gulf War, while the UN attempts to enforce them. It is a struggle between Iraq and the United States and Britain that has already led to several limited UN strikes on Iraq and Operation Desert Fox, and which could escalate to far more serious strikes in the future. In narrow terms, it is a struggle that shapes every aspect of Iraq’s conventional military power and efforts to proliferate. In broad terms, it is a strategic struggle in which Iraq attempts to reassert its status as a major Gulf and Arab power, while the UN seeks to limit Iraq’s capability to threaten its neighbors and change the character of the Iraqi government.
This is a struggle that Iraq may have begun to win, partly through its grim persistence in attempting to preserve its military capabilities and weapons of mass destruction, and partly by its political efforts to divide the UN, exploit the sympathy of the Arab world, and use its oil wealth as an incentive to win foreign support. Since 1997, the Security Council has become increasingly divided, and Iraq has been able to exploit these divisions. At the same time, Iraq has exploited its Arab identity, the near-breakdown of the Arab-Israeli peace process, and the hardships created by its refusal and delays in accepting the ‘‘oil for food’’ program to win the sympathy of other Arab states and many other nations.
These Iraqi efforts scarcely mean that it has become a reformed or peaceful nation. Iraq remains an aggressive and a revanchist state under the control of an ambitious and dangerous dictator. As a result, Iraq’s military capabilities cannot be judged in terms of its current forces and their war-fighting capabilities.