February 17, 2002 © New York University. All Rights Reserved.

Bush vs. Saddam: Shootout, Standoff, or Face-saving Solution?
By Crocker Snow Jr.
Boston--The 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 Bush’s 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 incumbent’s 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 Saddam’s trilogy is George W. Bush.
For the protagonists, it has all the elements of a duel to the death – exile at best for Saddam Hussein, political defeat and America’s 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 country’s ambassador to the UN in the 1980’s and longtime publisher of Beirut’s 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 Saudi’s and most recently Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak in a letter to Baghdad in early February. There is no doubt that it reached Saddam’s 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. Britain’s 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 America’s 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, Saddam’s 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 Bush’s 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, a service of New York University's Center for War, Peace, and the News Media, provides editors with commentary and perspective articles on critical global issues from contributors around the world. For more information, check out http://www.nyu.edu/globalbeat/syndicate/.

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