17, 2002 © New York University. All Rights Reserved.
Bush vs. Saddam: Shootout, Standoff, or Face-saving
Crocker Snow Jr.
US-Iraq standoff is taking on all the characteristics of a gunfight
at the OK corral. At center stage are two strong-willed leaders,
the dictator Saddam Hussein perched astride an old and oil rich
land in the heart of Mesopotamia and the democrat George W.
Bush the religiously driven leader of the Americas as the unchallenged
leader of the West. Uneasy is the head that wears the crown.
Each needs a face-saving way to stand down.
It has all gotten pretty personal judging from the rhetoric
that issues for full attribution from President Bushs
mouth. One has to assume the very same with Saddam Hussein.
If his first demon was the Ayatollah Komeini, his second was
George H. Bush, the incumbents father who stared him down
over Kuwait and whose life he later tried to take with a bungled
assassination attempt. The sins of the father may be visited
on the son. The third demon in Saddams trilogy is George
For the protagonists, it has all the elements of a duel to the
death exile at best for Saddam Hussein, political defeat
and Americas loss of leadership at worst for George W.
Bush. The international community - strong-willed allies and
hand-wringing spectators alike - is full of angst as the stand-off
gets ever more personal, and thus ever less likely of compromise.
But some of those ranged around the corral are trying their
best to diffuse this dynamic and to provide a face-saving way
out for the two with their hands at their holsters.
In the Middle East, the most significant news is that a range
of leaders are promoting an exit strategy for Saddam. Ghassen
Tueni of Lebanon, who was his countrys ambassador to the
UN in the 1980s and longtime publisher of Beiruts
respected newspaper An Nahar, took the early lead in proposing
that Saddam resign and be offered a graceful exile. This call
has been taken up by a range of heads of state and of influence
in the region, most notably the Saudis and most recently
Egypts Hosni Mubarak in a letter to Baghdad in early February.
There is no doubt that it reached Saddams inner circle.
President Bush has been exposed to a more confusing chorus.
On the one hand are the French and Germans, openly against any
unilateral action and apparently making domestic brownie points
with their almost outright opposition to any military action
at all. But there has been no perfidious Albion. Britains
Tony Blair has stood tall in the saddle, rallying other European
leaders in Spain, Italy, Poland and elsewhere in an open letter
of support for Bush and for the Americas leadership position
in general. Yet
one has to wonder what Prime Minister Blair really did say in
private to the President at Camp David on February 1st. Might
his public show of support have been carefully calculated as
the best way for him to prepare the ground to whisper privately
that his pal is a little too far out on the limb and should
worm his way back in? Might he have been praising Caesar in
public while trying to help him off the hook in private?
Diplomacy like politics is the art of compromise. It also is
the art of face-saving.
Openly, Saddams immediate Arab neighbors are trying to
convince him that somehow, someway striding off into exile would
be for his own good and the ultimate good of his country and
her people. True patriotism. Quite privately, George Bushs
most trusted allies may well be making the case for backing
down too -- that taking time for more inspections and even more
UN votes would serve the ultimate good of continued western
unity and supremacy in the more universally accepted and challenging
war on terrorism. True leadership. One can only hope.
Crocker Snow Jr., an international journalist and editor
in chief of The WorldPaper until 2001, is president of the
Boston-based Money Matters Institute.
- © 2000
New York University. All Rights Reserved. The Global Beat Syndicate,
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