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Iraq — Another Paper Tiger?

Is Saddam Hussein’s Iraq another paper tiger that — if left alone — will tumble peacefully into oblivion?

August 15, 2002

Is Saddam Hussein's Iraq another paper tiger that — if left alone — will tumble peacefully into oblivion?

The USSR was a paradigmatic rogue state, from well before the time it emerged as one of the victors in World War II — and until pretty much the day of its dissolution in December 1991.

Over that time period, it committed every offense typically associated with rogue states. It oppressed its own citizens — and ruthlessly stomped out any dissent.

It also persecuted its ethnic minorities — including, at one time, exiling entire nations from their historic homelands to the barren steppes of Central Asia.

Russia openly supported subversive forces all over the world, such as the international communist movement and national communist parties.

Although most of those parties functioned legally in democracies and were well represented in Western European parliaments, they were nonetheless committed to the abolition of private property and the suspension of 'bourgeois' freedoms.

Less overtly, Moscow also provided training, weapons, funds and sanctuary to a variety of national liberation movements, including the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

And, on the sly, the feared Soviet era intelligence agency, the KGB, maintained close links with violent leftist terrorist groups that committed crimes in Italy and Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.

The USSR also sought — and acquired — weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, the Soviets actually stole American A-bomb secrets, using their extensive spying network in the United States.

The Soviets produced and stockpiled various chemical and biological weapons. And, even though they showed willingness to negotiate treaties banning such weapons, they used the lack of transparency and tight controls on the freedom of the press in their own country to continue to produce such weapons secretly.

This type of behavior is very similar to what Saddam Hussein has been doing in Iraq. And, just as in the case of Iraq, the United States doggedly confronted the Soviet Union — and sought to expose the nature of its regime.

While the means of containing Russia changed over the five-decade period, the essence of the policy of containment remained unchanged.

But this is where the similarity with Iraq ends. The Cold War never turned into a hot one — except in remote areas of the world, such as Asia, Latin America and Africa. There, the two sides fought each other by proxy — that is, supporting opposing countries' armies.

Yet, there were numerous opportunities for a preventive strike against the Soviet Union. Most notably, the United States could have probably attacked — and won — in the late 1940s, before Moscow had acquired and deployed its own A-bomb.
In the end, cooler heads prevailed and the Soviet Union was contained by peaceful means.

Even when Russia and the United States already bristled with nuclear weapons, John Foster Dulles, the U.S. Secretary of State in the Eisenhower Administration, promoted a policy of brinksmanship.

It required bringing the two adversaries repeatedly to the brink of nuclear war. The best-known example was when the two countries nearly came to blows was the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

But in the end, cooler heads prevailed — and the Soviet Union was contained by peaceful means. Even though the United States could not enforce an economic embargo on the Soviet Union — and the Soviet economy could theoretically produce everything it needed — its economic system proved horribly inefficient.

Moreover, the Russian people got fed up with their government — and dumped it at the first real opportunity. When Russia finally crumbled — which it did with remarkable ease and surprisingly little violence — the old Soviet empire proved to be one enormous paper tiger.

The sorry fate of the Soviet Union does provide a lesson in dealing with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Although his country is no match militarily for the Soviet Union, he may have accumulated enough weapons of mass destruction to inflict heavy casualties on those who are trying to remove him by force as well as on his neighbors.

While war is always unpredictable, so is peace. Iraq is a small country, but its international importance should not be underestimated. And, even the non-violent collapse of the Soviet Union has resulted in a painful social crisis in Russia. More than a decade later, the period of adjustment has not yet run its course.

A forcible removal of Saddam Hussein is likely to have an even worse impact on Iraq. It will probably plunge the country into a deep internal conflict that may spill into other parts of that volatile region.

Since the area around the Persian Gulf contains around 60% of the world's proven oil reserves, it can be a serious threat to the global economic system. It may be a better idea to keep a watchful eye on Saddam Hussein and to wait for him to go peacefully — if ignominiously — just the way the old Soviet leaders did.

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