Containing a rogue state

Posted: Thursday, March 01, 2001

The following editorial appeared in Wednesday's Miami Herald:

With Secretary of State Colin Powell as its point man, the Bush administration is refocusing the nation's Mideast strategy back where it was a decade ago on containing Iraq's Saddam Hussein. The question: Why?

Two months ago, few Americans would have predicted that Mr. Powell would build his first foreign trip around an old nemesis. For most of the Clinton administration, U.S. Mideast policy was directed toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and finding a resolution that would bring a lasting peace there.

With Mr. Bush's ascent to the presidency, the focus is clearly shifting. In his whirlwind trip through the Mideast over the weekend, Mr. Powell may not have won converts to the strategy, but he succeeded in drawing the attention of allies in the region to the Bush administration's concerns over the continuing threat posed by Hussein.

Now, having gotten that attention, the administration's task will be to explain that policy in a way that will recapture support from many allies in the Persian Gulf coalition who have grown weary of maintaining rigid sanctions against Iraq.

Three weeks ago, the Bush administration punished Iraq with airstrikes for going beyond its U.N.-sanctioned agreement to abide by no-fly-zones in northern and southern Iraq. At the same time, the new administration said that it would be less actively involved in the daily activities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than was the Clinton administration, although its commitment to Israel remains just as firm.

Mr. Powell made a strong case that despite Hussein's inglorious defeat in Desert Storm, the Iraqi leader remains a serious threat to the region and world, and must be dealt with forcefully. Unquestionably, Iraq remains determined to develop a mass-destruction capability in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Secretary Powell's offer to ease U.S. sanctions that hurt Iraqi civilians while maintaining those against military targets is open acknowledgement that the existing sanctions policy hasn't worked as intended. It's also a good sign that the Bush administration is willing to try new approaches to win the support that is essential from Iraq's neighbors, from Europe and, importantly, from the American public.

The irony of the new Bush administration renewing this old engagement exactly 10 years after the first Bush administration's successes there is obvious. Just as the elder Bush did, the president has to persuade the country that this, too, is in our best interest.

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