PERSPECTIVE ON THE GULF WAR : We Must Also Win the Peace : A bold war must become an equally bold peace, to break the regional syndrome that produces dictators like Hussein.
The moment of truth for Saddam Hussein has now arrived. His refusal to pull out of Kuwait has once again led his country and his people into disaster, destruction and death. Is this to be the last hurrah for strutting, self-aggrandizing Arab dictators who threaten all their neighbors and oppress their own nations? Will this Gulf War turn out to be a political watershed in the region? That is the key question beyond the ground war.
The Bush Administration deserves the highest marks, not only for the military prosecution of the war, but especially for the political skills in maintaining such an extraordinary international consensus, including the Soviet Union.
And in Middle Eastern politics, desperate crisis sometimes seems to be the only midwife to new opportunities. There is no reason now why President Bush cannot turn this bold war into an equally bold peace.
Key, deep-rooted issues now call for creative and innovative steps aimed at breaking this vicious political syndrome in the region that seems to produce a Saddam Hussein every decade.
First among them is the need for more representative government in the region. Hussein could not have caused this war in the Gulf had the war-weary Iraqi public had more to say in the process.
The new postwar order in Kuwait, for example, presents an opportunity for renewing and strengthening earlier parliamentary experiments. Let these parliamentary efforts spread roots into Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have so far been resistant to them. Hopefully a new climate in the Middle East will encourage the establishment of more representative governments in post-Saddam Iraq, and in Syria as well.
But we must be realistic that such movement toward more participatory government will initially prove destabilizing in many states, as a new balance is struck among traditional political and social forces long dominated by authoritarianism. But we must traverse these unstable periods of profound political change if we are ever to emerge from the other end of the authoritarian tunnel.
The new security order must also move away from the old ad-hoc coalitions of friends and enemies and toward a more permanent and structured organization that includes all the regional states, including, yes, Iraq and Iran. No order that excludes them can ever be viable. And the United States must play only a modest, over-the-horizon role in such an organization if the new security arrangement is to be perceived as a legitimate regional force, and not simply as some new neocolonial instrument of the United States to perpetuate a hold on Middle Eastern oil.
Vast disparities of regional wealth must also be eased if we are not to face another explosion soon in the region. The Gulf oil states should drop the traditional generous welfare payments (with political strings attached) and start investing in the regional economies themselves--in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Tunisia and Morocco.
And the oil states must also be willing to bestow social and political rights of citizenship upon those Arab laborers and professionals from other Arab states who are long-time residents of the Gulf and who have helped build and run these very Gulf economies, instead of leaving them as second- or third-class citizens; what else should Arab solidarity mean if charity cannot start at home?
Lastly, the unresolved Palestinian problem has cast its destabilizing shadow over all facets of Middle Eastern politics for more than 40 years. It must receive prompt and vigorous attention, for it is the heart of the Arab-Israeli problem and the gateway to a broader settlement. The Arabs must now deal with Israel. But Israel’s Likud government now argues that a settlement with other Arab states must come before any Palestinian settlement; such a position is simply disingenuous and designed to justify Lukud’s refusal to exchange land for peace. Palestinian emotional support for Hussein--as the only leader who has “stood up to Israel"--has been foolish and shortsighted, but it does not constitute grounds for “disqualifying” them from a right to self-determination in the West Bank and Gaza. Arafat, too, has badly damaged his own political standing as a result of his supremely bad judgment in remaining close to Hussein, but the Palestinians themselves must decide who in the end can best represent them.
Will the victorious Arab partners of this alliance themselves move to develop more farsighted and liberal policies toward the region, or will they use their new position to perpetuate positions of advantage against the others? Major opportunities and dangers thus present themselves in the wake of this conflict.
The United States, for the first time in the history of the region, will now be seen as having killed tens of thousands of Arabs. Will the mentality of subjugation, humiliation and victimization be perpetuated among the losers--including the Palestinians?
We have all paid a high price for this military victory in treasure and blood. Do we reap a legacy of hatred from this war, or can we win the peace as well, provoking hope for change and improvement in this troubled region?