IRAQ ACCEPTS GEORGE BUSH’S OFFER TO HOLD DIRECT TALKS BEFORE THE UN DEADLINE
A HINT OF HOPE IN THE GULF
IRAQ ACCEPTS GEORGE BUSH’S OFFER TO HOLD DIRECT TALKS BEFORE THE UN DEADLINE
In the broadloomed chamber of the United Nations Security Council, elation and apprehension mingled uneasily. Beneath a gigantic mural depicting a mythical phoenix rising over battle-scarred terrain, a sword vanquishing the sinister dragon beneath its claws, the foreign ministers waited half an hour for the man who had single-handedly turned the council’s 2,693rd session into what he rightly called a “watershed.” For three weeks, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker had jetted from Bermuda to Moscow, Cairo and Bogotá, lobbying leaders of the council’s other member nations to fall into line. But by the time Baker strode to the head of the horseshoeshaped table last week, only 35 hours before Washington’s month-long term in the Security Council’s revolving presidency was to end, he had already cemented all his deals and eliminated any risk of surprises. With a brisk rap of his gavel, Baker presided over the United Nations’ strongest threat yet to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein: the adoption of Resolution 678, authorizing member states to use “all means necessary” against him unless he withdraws from Kuwait by Jan. 15.
Although the wording did not explicitly refer to military force and Baker termed the 47-day countdown a “pause for peace,” few delegates in the packed chamber doubted the import of the 12-to-2 vote. Only China, among the 15 council members, abstained, and that, too, was a victory because Beijing could have vetoed the measure.
Then, less than 24 hours after the vote, President George Bush hastily called a White House news conference to offer the first hint of hope in the Persian Gulf crisis. In a stunning reversal of his previous refusal to deal with the Iraqis directly, he
invited Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to Washington next week and announced that Baker would go to Baghdad between Dec. 15 and the UN deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait.
On Saturday, Hussein accepted the offer, although he had earlier dismissed the adoption of the resolution in scathing terms: “Americans are still influenced by Rambo movies, but this is not a Rambo movie,” he said.
A similar UN resolution was used for the first and only time four decades ago—to unleash the Korean War. As Yemeni Ambassador Abdullah Saleh al-Ashtal, who, with Cuba, opposed the measure, put it, “In the annals of the United Nations, this will long be remembered as the war resolution.” Other foreign ministers, including the Soviets’ Eduard Shevardnadze, hailed Baker’s shrewd marshalling of a global consensus in the Gulf. But the U.S. secretary found his diplomatic triumph undercut by mount’ ing domestic criticism that he was manipulating the United Nations to lend legitimacy to $ increasingly controversial g U.S. policy in the Gulf. Said u Ted Galen Carpenter, direc-
tor of foreign policy studies at Washington’s libertarian Cato Institute: “Here we have a kind of Hollywood movie-set version of international security. This puts a very impressive international facade on what is really a U.S. operation.”
Indeed, at the very moment the Security Council was approving the global show of solidarity and muscle, a parade of American Democratic leaders and former military commanders was lined up on Capitol Hill. Most urged Bush to delay entering a potentially disastrous conflict. Said Carpenter: “The support for Bush’s position has been eroding steadily as the American people have confronted the probable cost. The President now faces the very nasty prospect of leading a very seriously divided country into war.”
Bush said that he is sending Baker to Iraq and inviting Aziz to Washington to demonstrate that he would “go the extra mile for peace.” But he refused to back down from his demands for Iraq’s unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait. And the President reiterated his justifications for the massive U.S. military buildup in the Gulf, scheduled to reach well over 400,000 troops by year’s end. Said Judith Kipper, a Middle East scholar at Washington’s nonpartisan Brookings Institution, of the prospective dialogue with Baghdad: “We’re going to be watching a very interesting diplomatic dance in the weeks to come.”
In fact, Bush’s sudden gesture appeared to be aimed less at Iraq than at mounting concern in a nation still haunted by the ghosts of conflicts past. In testimony before the Senate
armed services committee last week, former defence secretary James Schlesinger invoked the spectre of Vietnam. He predicted that, despite a multinational force backing up U.S. troops in the Gulf, American soldiers would incur 90 per cent of the casualties in a conflict. And another witness, retired rear admiral Gene La Rocque, director of Washington’s independent Centre for Defence Information, estimated that Baghdad could be captured within three months. But to do so, he said, would cost U.S. forces 10,000 dead and 35,000 wounded.
Also appearing before the committee, retired admiral William Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Ronald Reagan, cautioned Bush to give the UN’s economic embargo against Iraq enough time to take effect. Added Crowe: “I counsel patience. War is not neat, it’s not tidy. It’s a mess.”
Many of those concerns had been stated in Ottawa only hours before External Affairs Minister Joe Clark flew to the United Nations, where he served as one of six co-sponsors of Resolution 678. In the Commons, Clark mounted his most aggressive defence yet of Canadian participation in the multinational Gulf force. But opposition MPs resisted Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s appeal for a unanimous show of Canadian support for the measure. Instead, the House divided 111 to 82, along party lines, in a vote on the measure that was about to go to the Security Council. Said Liberal Opposition
Leader Herb Gray: “We will not give the government a blank cheque for any and all action. This resolution could put countries like Canada on the road to world war.”
New Democratic Party defence critic John Brewin described Washington as “a dangerous ally.” At the same time, party leader Audrey McLaughlin said that by not allowing enough time for economic sanctions to take their toll on Iraq, Mulroney risked a war that could cost Canadian lives. And after the UN vote, Clark said that Canadian forces will remain in the Gulf until the conflict is resolved. He added, “We don’t send people there only to bring them home when the purpose for which they were sent is triggered.”
In Washington, Bush also made it clear that he has been wrestling with the momentous issue of committing lives to the struggle against Iraq. He vowed that, in any Gulf conflict, he will not repeat the mistakes of Vietnam, and he grew emotional as he described his “heartrending” mail from servicemen’s families. But when asked if he would send a child of his own to the Gulf, he had no clear reply. “I’ve been there,” he said, referring to his own Second World War experience as a navy fighter pilot whose aircraft was shot down by the Japanese in 1944. “I know what it’s like to have fallen comrades and see kids die in battle. Is it worth it? How many lives is it worth?” Added Bush: “All I know is that if one American soldier has to go in, that soldier will have
enough firepower behind him to go in and win and then get out as soon as possible. There will be no murky ending. I will never, ever agree to a halfway effort. This will not be another Vietnam.”
Still, other parallels to that divisive war were already emerging last week. The U.S. army reported that recruitment in its all-volunteer force—the draft was dropped near the end of American involvement in the Vietnam War— had dropped by 30 per cent since last August, when Bush announced the Gulf deployment. And five members of a U.S. Marine Corps reserve company from New York refused to report for duty, declaring themselves conscientious objectors. Said Sam Lwin, 21, a former lance corporal in the Fox Company Marine Corps reserve who joined up to learn a trade: “For me, war is immoral, killing is immoral.”
In Germany, where the Pentagon has 246,000 armed service personnel, some of them now in the course of being transferred to the Middle East, German and U.S. peace organizers admitted arranging escape routes and legal advice for soldiers who do not want to face combat with Iraq. Said Cathy Stoner, who helps to operate a pacifist hotline called the Military Counselling Network in Kastellaun, south of Koblenz: “A lot of them don’t want to go. They say, ‘This isn’t my war.’ ”
In Congress, Democrats have already begun to tap into that mood. Last week, in a speech to the chamber of commerce in Washington, moderate Democratic House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, a past—and likely future— presidential candidate, broke with other leaders of his party to stake his claim as an antiwar spokesman. “Stay the course,” he urged Bush. “Stick with the sanctions. Do not try to mount an offensive military action in the near future.” But liberal opponents of U.S. military engage-« ment say that they have been startled to find themselves in an unlikely coalition with unaccustomed political bedfellows—members of the Republican right wing. Among them: ultraconservative commentator Patrick Buchanan, who last week led the attack against Bush’s most recent argument for military action against Hussein—the possibility that he may be about to build an atomic bomb.
In fact, Bush repeated that charge at week’s end despite a declaration by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, invited to monitor Iraq’s facilities, that its inspectors had found no evidence of a bomb. Wrote Buchanan in his syndicated column: “Is it coincidence that Mr. Bush raised the nuclear spectre the same week polls showed this was the one, the only, argument that might persuade Americans to support a pre-emptive strike?”
In his three weeks of shuttle diplomacy, Baker exercised his talents as a hard-driving deal-maker. He was the guiding strategist in both Reagan’s and Bush’s presidential campaigns, and he mounted what Buchanan derided as “a global arm-twisting operation.” During a brief stopover in Bogotá, he helped persuade Colombia to support the UN resolution, rather than one of its own, by promising more economic aid and holding out the possibil-
ity of approval for increased exports of its flowers and sugar to the American market.
As well, only a day after Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev reversed his three-monthlong refusal to approve military force in the Gulf, he received a $4.6-billion economic aid package for his foundering economy from Saudi Arabia—a fiercely anti-Communist kingdom. The Saudis did not even have diplomatic relations with the Kremlin until just over two months ago.
Baker’s invitation of Cuban Foreign Minister Isidoro Malmierca to his Waldorf Astoria suite on the night before the vote also bridged longheld hostilities. Analysts credited Baker’s persuasive powers for convincing Malmierca to drop Cuba’s threats to link the Gulf vote to another controversial resolution that would have called for a UN-appointed ombudsman for Palestinians in Israel’s West Bank.
In Baghdad, however, Hussein’s ruling council said that direct contact with the Americans will enable Iraq to link the Palestinian issue to the Gulf conflict and all other outstanding Middle East issues. The Iraqi dictator has consistently taken the position that only negotiations that deal with all of the region’s conflicts will enable him to withdraw from Kuwait. But Vice-President Dan Quayle said on Saturday that the U.S.-Iraq talks are intended only to explain the implications of the UN resolution to Hussein and his representatives.
Meanwhile, one of Baker’s most pivotal tactical victories during his campaign for UN support led to resounding denunciations from human rights activists. Despite an official administration ban on “high-level official exchanges” with Beijing since last year’s massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, Baker met twice over the past month with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen—signalling an end to China’s ostracism from the world community. In the process, he convinced the Chinese not to veto the resolution, a power that it holds as one of the Security Council’s five permanent members.
Then, Beijing’s leadership, apparently counting on American acquiescence and the diversion of world attention by the Gulf vote, cracked down on student dissidents. When the new wave of arrests and trials last week elicited no protests from the White House, the human rights organization Asia Watch issued an angry statement denouncing Bush for sending “the wrong message at the wrong time.”
The administration’s China action, coupled with Bush’s meeting in Geneva two weeks ago with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, the leader of a country still identified as the guiding force behind some of the most brutal acts of international terrorism, is raising issues about how high a price Washington may have to pay for its Gulf stand. Indeed, when Bush offered his olive branch to Hussein, many analysts expressed relief. As Canadian Ambassador Yves Fortier noted, the sombre mood of the night before, when many UN delegates feared that they had unleashed the dogs of war, gave way to a sudden, cautious glimmer of optimism.
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