The consequences of a status quo are relatively easy to predict. Iraq’s military future will only be limited as long as the UN controls Iraq’s legal imports and oil revenues, prevents conventional arms imports, and some form of UN monitoring and/or inspection regime is in place. The question is, what will happen if Iraq undercuts UN controls and sanctions, or is able to exploit ‘‘sanctions fatigue’’ to the point where sanctions are lifted?
It is unrealistic to hope for ‘‘moderation’’ in Saddam Hussein’s regime or a predictable end to the ‘‘war of sanctions.’’ It is equally unrealistic to expect that a new leader will bring a complete end to Iraq’s challenge to its neighbors and the West, or its efforts to proliferate. The Gulf War did not change Saddam’s fundamental behavior, and neither has the ‘‘war of sanctions.’’ Saddam’s most probable near-term successors are likely to be products of the Ba’ath, Saddam’s coterie, and/or the military than true moderates. They are also more likely to be minority Sunnis from some mix of clans and tribes than a true national government. While no one can rule out the possibility of an Iraqi Ataturk or Sadat, such leadership is more likely to change Iraq’s image and moderate the more controversial aspects of its behavior than change its fundamental strategic perspective.
Iraq’s mid- to long-term political prospects are more favorable. It is unlikely that any sequence of ruling elites will continue to ignore Iraq’s pressing demographic and economic problems to the extent that Saddam has, or that any successors can provide the same mix of political skills and reckless ambition. However, it is unclear when a national leadership will come to power that can bridge Iraq’s deep divisions by religion, ethnic group, tribe, and clan. Iraq is likely to have authoritarian minority leaders for some time to come, and Iraq’s geography alone makes it likely that Iraq’s rulers will believe that they must