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Another war with Iraq will solve nothing - just like the last one

America must mind its own business and get out of the Gulf, says Samuel Francis
EIGHT YEARS after the mother of all battles against Iraq, the US, its tame client states in the Gulf, and its even more docile European house pets, such as Tony Blair, are still prepared to take another whack at "the most wicked man in the world", as Saddam Hussein was dubbed during the first Gulf War. That war settled nothing, of course, and a new one would be equally futile, and murderous.

America and its allies have blasted Iraq three times since 1991, and almost blasted it a fourth time last winter, when Saddam declined to allow United Nations weapons inspectors to creep and crawl wherever they liked inside his country. Whatever it is he is hiding (and however wicked he is) Saddam does have a point in resisting: Iraq is a sovereign nation, and there are limits to the intrusion it can be expected to tolerate.

But what Mr Blair, among others, persists in calling the "international community" has decided that Saddam must allow the inspectors to spy out the high-tech venoms he is stashing beneath the kumquat bushes. Having established Saddam as a Hitler figure, the US and its allies may now do to him and his country whatever they wish.

Yesterday Iraq told the UN that it would resume co-operation with the weapons inspectors, but that may not be enough to satisfy the "international community", whose ruthlessness is matched by its humbug. The Gulf War of 1990-1991 had little to do with "protecting oil", let alone with saving the limp and dewy maidens of Kuwait from the "madman of Baghdad". It was the first conflict of the New World Order, a phrase deployed at the time by President Bush to describe the happy kingdom that would prevail once the evil empire had crumbled and global democracy triumphed.

Clinton is the heir to Bush. He may be a Democrat, but that makes little difference. Though the Republicans have spent most of the Clinton years concocting improbable conspiracy theories and spluttering over the president's even more improbable sexual habits - in hope of impeaching him - they are all for foreign policy bipartisanship whenever it comes to the prospect of sending in the bombers.

The only qualification the Republicans make is that the President is not tough enough. After the missile strikes and air raids, they whine that Mr Clinton is really an "appeaser", an amateur who lacks the guts to serve up the buckets of blood that Real Peace always requires.

The same whining was directed at President Bush. Toward the end of the Gulf War, the Wall Street Journal, always a reliable voice for global gallivanting, demanded that the US march "on to Baghdad", much like Peter O'Toole as T E Lawrence screaming "On to Aqaba" in the famous movie. Once ensconced in Baghdad, the Journal explained, the US was to establish a "MacArthur Regency" and preside over the indoctrination of the natives in the glories of American democracy, economic development, and Western cultural excellence.

Wisely, the Bush administration chose to ignore this childish, and wicked, advice, but foolishly, the administration had already placed the US foot on the path that leads to just such an adventure in naked imperialism.

It is precisely down that path that the US has stumbled ever since. No one, outside the armchair strategists of the Washington right, really wants to walk down it, but having treated Saddam as the "most wicked man in the world", most American and Western leaders believe that we must walk it. We simply cannot let him gain chemical weapons. What about the oil? We must finish what we started, and we can't back down now.

None of these arguments is compelling. Saddam may, of course, have chemical weapons or be on the verge of getting them, as indeed are any number of other desperate and unpleasant characters throughout the world. If Saddam does have such weapons and did use them against European or American or regional targets, we could retaliate by simply wiping him off the map, and would be entirely morally justified in doing so. We are not morally justified in doing so prior to his commission of aggression, however. The acquisition of chemical - or nuclear or bacteriological or laser or whatever - weapons does not in itself justify any violation of traditional usages of international law and ethics, nor does it invalidate the ancient law of deterrence - if you hit me, I can and will hit you back and harder.

The oil argument does not work, either. Saddam wants to sell oil. In 1990, he needed to sell oil in order to pay off his debts accrued during his war with Iran. He is not in a position to deny his oil to the West and hold the Western economies hostage to his will. No matter how wicked, aggressive, or tyrannical Saddam or any other ruler of Iraq might be, he or she will need to sell his or her oil to the West as much as the West will need to buy it. That need ought to lead to peaceful and mutually beneficial commerce, not to the kind of war and blockade that has persisted since 1991.

That leaves "not backing down, staying the course, maintaining the national honour", and so on. Such arguments were a mainstay of the Vietnam conflict, and they grew ever more tinny as the course on which we stayed refused to grow any shorter. In Iraq, as in Vietnam, there is no sign of any progress toward a conclusion; we in America just happen to notice it less because fewer Americans (so far) are dying. Just as in Vietnam, the US was not willing to pay the price or countenance the risks involved in a military campaign that would have ended the war (the invasion of North Vietnam), so in Iraq we are not willing to pay the price that "on to Baghdad" would demand.

The military part would probably be easy; the hard part is what we would have to do once we got there, and when we would be able to leave. No one - not even at the Wall Street Journal - seems to have answers to these questions. If we do not have answers before any future blundering into Baghdad, we may find that, as in Vietnam, we will not be able to get out of it easily.

Yet, for much of last week it seemed likely that Mr Clinton was about to punch the buttons for yet another attack on a country that to this day has never harmed a single American except in the war the US waged against it eight years ago, a country where, reportedly, some 1.2 million harmless people have died of starvation and disease as a result of sanctions imposed by the UN and enforced by the US and its allies.

The war we have already fought, the bombs and missiles we have already dropped or fired, the people we have already killed, the rights and principles we have already violated or ignored have not brought either peace, or stability, or even victory, whatever "victory" might mean in this context. Neither would another war. America, and its allies, should get out, come home, and mind their own business.

Samuel Francis worked as a Republican foreign policy adviser in the Senate during the Reagan years. He is a nationally syndicated columnist and editor of 'The Samuel Francis Letter', a monthly newsletter published in Alexandria, Virginia.