US Looks to Postwar Picture in Best Case, a Chance for US Prestige; in Worst, Poor Relations with Region, an Isolated Israel

By Marshall Ingwerson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 17, 1991 | Go to article overview

US Looks to Postwar Picture in Best Case, a Chance for US Prestige; in Worst, Poor Relations with Region, an Isolated Israel


Marshall Ingwerson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


ONCE a war is over in the Persian Gulf, the real work begins - the delicate political effort to bring stability to an unsettled region.

How much turmoil a war could leave will depend heavily on how long it lasts and how bloody it is.

While the risks are tremendous for American interests in the Middle East, optimists see an opportunity for greatly enhanced American prestige - and leverage for resolving some longstanding regional problems.

Ironically, most American experts foresee problems if the United States and its allies destroy too much of Iraq's military power.

"It's not in our interest that Iraq be dismembered," says Robert Neumann, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries and currently director of Middle East Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "We need Iraq to balance the region."

Ambassador Neumann's view is widespread in Washington. Without some military capability left in Iraq, Iran and Syria will be prone to the same sort of adventurism Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has attempted.

The US and its allies are likely to want the postwar Iraq armed, but less dangerous, than now. To maintain stability, President Bush discusses a regional security arrangement, perhaps through an international military presence.

The postwar political picture in the Middle East will be drawn according to how fast and how easily the American coalition prevails. Most forecasts fall between two scenarios, sketched by Leon Hadar, an international affairs professor at American University. Best case:

The war is over in a matter of days, with minimum casualties. Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia now respect the US for its strength and reliability. Their leaders have been vindicated for aligning themselves with the West, because the alliance worked. A more moderate, less threatening, Iraqi regime takes power.

The US now has more leverage with Israel, having saved it from Saddam, to push for conciliation with moderate Arab states and perhaps even the Palestinians. Ideally, the inequities of wealth and development could be addressed in a sort of Marshall Plan for the Middle East, sponsored by Europe and Japan. Worst case:

The war bogs down in trench warfare in Kuwait that goes on for months, with heavy casualties. The US gradually becomes the focus of hatred for Arabs and other Muslims, just as Saddam Hussein gains status for defiance.

The hatred blooms into "a global and regional intifadah," in Dr. Hadar's term, referring to the Palestinian uprising. US embassies are burned. Terrorism is rampant. Moderate Arab regimes, such as in Egypt, are brought down. Jordan could disappear between Syrian aggression and Israeli defensiveness.

The US would have poor relations with everyone in the region but a more-isolated-than-ever Israel. With unhappy Muslim populations of their own, the Europeans and even the Soviets begin distancing themselves from American policy.

"Most depressing of all," says Hadar, the American public begins pressing for complete disengagement from the Middle East. …

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