Jordan's King Hussein finds himself alone among "Arab moderates" in apologizing for the Iraqi conquest of Kuwait because he lacks the economic, military or even psychological strength to wrest himself free from a debilitating dependence on and subservience to Baghdad.
Iraq is by far Amman's largest trading partner, providing, for example, two-thirds of the kingdom's oil imports. Iraq's economic vise on Jordan extends to all aspects of the kingdom's economy. Three-quarters of the kindgom's manufactured exports go to Iraq, as does a similar proportion of activity at Jordan's lone port at Aqaba. The salary remittances of tens of thousands of Jordanian workers in Kuwait and Iraq are one of the kingdom's main sources of foreign exchange. And the recently signed bilateral trade protocol outlined $800 million worth of transactions--about double Jordan's entire cash reserves.
From the Jordanian viewpoint, therefore, joining the chorus of condemnation would be economic suicide. Cutting economic links with Iraq, as demanded by the United Nations, would hurt Jordan more quickly and even more acutely than it would Baghdad. Barely a year after price riots occasioned by a deepening recession, high unemployment and the implementation of an International Monetary Fund austerity plan, King Hussein evidently decided that earning the wrath of his good friend George Bush was a reasonable price for maintaining domestic tranquillity.
A second, less tangible, reason for the king's behavior is the sheer disbelief at the enormity of the confidence game played on him by Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
Over the last five years, Jordan has built a strategic alliance with Iraq to fill the gap created by the king's festering disillusionment with America and his growing uneasiness with Israel. The formation last April of a new, Likud-led Israeli government, in which virtually every minister has at one time voiced disdain for Jordan's very existence, confirmed in the king's mind the need to look elsewhere for protection.
Brimming with confidence following the Iran-Iraq war, a million-man army and an arsenal of missiles and poison gas, Saddam Hussein was quick to comply. But, of course, only on his terms. Namely, Iraq insisted that Jordan help raise the Arab-Israeli stakes through such displays of brinkmanship as joint Iraqi-Jordanian air force operations and permitting the flight of Iraqi reconnaissance planes over the Israeli border. Against his better judgment, King Hussein went along with the Iraqi agenda every step of the way as the price to pay for the right to brandish the Iraqi army as Jordan's strategic deterrent.
Through it all, Jordan sought comfort in the smug belief that it had the relationship well under control. For the past year, as Iraq's relations with the West worsened, Amman has seen itself performing la mission civilatrice in its relations with Baghdad, with Jordanians officials speaking expansively of the invaluable role they play in explaining the West to Iraq and explaining Iraq to the West. The king, it was implied, was a royal Higgins to Saddam's Eliza Doolittle.
The Iraqi digestion of Kuwait, a hereditary monarchy with roots in its land almost two centuries longer than the Hashemites in theirs, showed how ridiculous and misguided Jordanian policy actually was. Jordan has no leverage over Iraq and has not had any since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, but Jordan refused to see the one-way signs posted on the road to Baghdad. By promising a peaceful resolution in the gulf, the Iraqi president lied and abused theJordanian king--his closest and perhaps his only ally--and underscored Jordan's utter lack of strategic independence. The king's reaction so far is the response of a proud but powerless man made to look the fool.
A final reason for the king's apologia for Iraq revolves around domestic political opinion in Jordan. He is not, as has been suggested, Mussolini to Saddam's Hitler; Jordan has neither the means nor the ambition for territorial expansion. But the World War II analogy that does apply is the Austrian-like reaction of the Jordanian and Palestinian people to the Iraqi Anschluss .
In the face of unprecedented international condemnation, the Jordanians and Palestinians continue to lionize Saddam Hussein for taking what he believes is rightfully his. That is a lesson many in their hearts (if not in their minds) would like to see applied in Palestine as well as in Jordan itself. As he has done on occasion in the past, King Hussein has decided to ride that tide, rather than be swept up in it.
For these reasons, the West's favorite Arab ruler quixotically finds himself in league with Moammar Kadafi and Yasser Arafat in excusing Iraq's lust and avarice. Sadly, though, even this appeasing posture will not deter Saddam Hussein from sacrificing the Hashemite monarchy to take the battle directly to Israel.