Along the Tracks

Friday, February 21, 2003

Pollack’s revelation

Maybe the 2000 election controversy overwhelmed the story, but am I the only one who does not recall hearing about Saddam’s Syrian gambit in October 2000, as described in an op-ed by Kenneth Pollack in the New York Times today?

The information comes in the eighth paragraph on the second page of the extensive argument Pollack makes against trusting containment of Iraq. Apparently, in October 2000, Saddam moved five armed divisions to the western Iraq border, where they awaited Syrian approval to cross that country’s territory (which it seems had initially been given) and set up shop on the Golan Heights - which Israel occupies. According to Pollack, only a combination of “diplomatic intervention with Syria, combined with the Iraqi military’s logistical problems, quashed the adventure.”

This is stunning news to me. How on earth did we allow those troops to get so close to their aggressive target? Why did we not obliterate them immediately? Why do we allow anti-war critics and overseas governments to continue with this farce that Saddam has been “kept in his box,” when in fact, just over two years ago, he showed he could march right out of his box any time he wants?

First, this makes the case for immediate intervention all the stronger. It is clear that as soon as Saddam thinks he might get away with an aggressive act, he will move. And next time, he could have a nuclear weapon, or make a pre-emptive attack on surrounding troops with chemical and biological weapons to disrupt their defense, or have his agents stationed inside the U.S. make a chemical or biological assault to stop or at least slow any American response. Giving Saddam the initiative of choosing his time and place for what is an inevitable confrontation invites slaughter of our friends and ourselves.

Second, I’m not sure how much more disgusted I can be with Clinton’s foreign policy disasters, but this is one more log on the fire. By Pollack’s count, there were two instances during Clinton’s watch where Saddam courted the destruction of his regime: the 1993 assassination attempt on former President Bush and the 1994 threat to attack Kuwait yet again. Pollack doesn’t even count the 1998 expulsion of the inspectors (resulting in the Desert Fox bombing) or the just revealed abortive assault on Israel - but I do. That’s four provocative actions by Saddam which should have resulted in his removal by American force, all during the Clinton years.

Pollack calls these examples evidence of Saddam’s penchant for miscalculation. I would only say that, while Clinton was in office, Saddam’s calculations proved correct.

P.S. - The October 2000 movements may very well have been prompted by Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon - as was Arafat’s rejection of the Camp David offer by Ehud Barak (who ordered the withdrawal), as was the intefadah, as was the assault of suicide bombers that still continues. That well-meant but poorly-thought-out show of weakness by Israel elicited a cascade of trouble.

UPDATE: After doing some research on this story, it appears that, while there were a few stories noting Iraqi troop movements in October 2000, the situation was largely dismissed as a "show of solidarity with Palestinians" as the uprising started. Pollack's more complete explanation makes the situation in retrospect far more threatening than what was reported at the time. Pollack may have even more in his book, The Threatening Storm. Guess I better read it.

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