Reprinted for educational purposes from the New York Times of November 21, 1997


ON MY MIND / By A.M. Rosenthal

After three weeks of intensive round-the-clock, round-the-world negotiations that summoned all its diplomatic and moral power, the Clinton Administration achieved these landmark results:

The U.N. bowed Saddam Hussein back without any penalty whatsoever for forcing U.N. arms inspectors out of Iraq. You can understand his annoyance -- they were getting too close to his hidden chemical and nuclear weaponry and particularly his germ warfare stocks.

No more was asked of Saddam than another implied promise to give inspectors full access to sites where the weapons were made or stored. He has broken those promises almost every day for more than six years since the inspections were imposed on him by the armistice ending the Persian Gulf war, and by U.N. decisions. Saddam was absolved of all the international crimes he had committed by forcing the inspectors out. These crimes included openly and derisively breaking the armistice and U.N. sanctions against him and smashing the U.N. inspection machinery long enough for him to make new batches of germ war weapons.

Will Western foreign offices at least now spare us lectures on the importance of bringing international criminals to trial? The Saddam story is like a murderer kicking the warden and his staff out of the prison, strolling out before worldwide TV, and then holding court while he supervises destruction of the jailhouse.

Washington allowed -- or begged -- Russia and France to guide and lead the talks with Saddam. This neatly rewarded them for having betrayed the inspectors, the U.S. and the U.N. by repeatedly blocking action against him in the Council.

America's decision to make France and Russia the leaders gave Moscow prestige in the Mideast greater than any time since the Kremlin was chief arms supplier to the Arabs. It made Yevgeny Primakov the most influential foreign "diplomat" in the Mideast, the same Yevgeny who was such a passionate admirer of Iraq when he was a big man in the K.G.B. He still is, now that he is also Russian Foreign Minister.

America's agreement to the ascension of Russia and France guarantees their increased pressure for ending the trade sanctions against Saddam. They lust for this so that they can begin collecting on the contracts with Iraq they already have signed.

Watch that last one -- it's Saddam's only goal about the U.N. That's the key to the deal. No, the U.S. says; it is not a deal, it is a "resolution" of the "controversy." That refers to Saddam's naughtiness in expelling inspectors. True -- in the sense that the "controversy" caused by Hitler's appetite for Czechoslovakia was "resolved" at Munich in 1938.

The wide-eyed excuse from Mr. Clinton and those who have to pay the price of working for him will be that it avoided the U.S. taking military measures against Saddam, such as bombing his germ warfare sites. True, right on again -- as the arming of Saddam by 500 Western companies avoided Western military action against him, until he invaded Kuwait.

Last, but only to spare the stomach: the U.S. is participating in spreading the line that Israel's insistence on security and reciprocity as conditions for peace with the Palestinians so upset Arab states that the anti-Saddam coalition broke up. You remember the coalition -- that is what it was called when Saddam's invasion so terrified the Arabs that they cuddled up to us, until we defeated him; then goodbye.

The U.S. press snatched at this nasty anti-Israeli line as a sleepy trout the fly. An NBC reporter on "Meet the Press" eagerly asked Samuel Berger, the national security adviser: "So Israel has hurt us in this regard?" He talked around that, but very noticeably did not say no. That line from Westerners driven starkers by Israel's current insistence on reciprocity and security -- from any and all it really is an obscenity. Saddam, they may recall, was ahead of them -- he blamed Israel for the gulf war.

Naturally, the Arabs desert the coalition. What fools would stick with one so unusual, where the U.S. passes leadership to Russia and France and turns another cheek to Saddam? But Saddam will be back challenging the U.S. and the U.N. He may not even have the common courtesy to wait for a new President he can walk over.

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company

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