The behavior of the current Iraqi and Iranian regimes threatens U.S. national interests. But it is becoming increasingly clear that American policy toward these two countries, which seemed to hold promise five years ago, is not achieving its stated objectives. Washington has sought to "contain" both countries by taking unilateral actions against them, but the necessary support from our friends and allies is eroding. This analysis proposes four tactical adjustments in U.S. policy which, if adopted, should increase the chances for American interests in the Gulf to be served.
Simply put, U.S. policy toward the Persian Gulf is to lead a confrontation against Iraq and Iran in order to change their behavior and at the same time to cooperate in a variety of ways with the six other states of the region. This policy is based on a view held by successive presidents for half a century that there are vital American interests in the Gulf-both economic and strategic-which require us to protect our access to that region and to prevent states hostile to us from dominating it.
AMERICAN INTERESTS AND POLICIES
The Iranian revolution of 1979, which led to the ouster of the shah, the holding of 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days, and the Ayatollah Khomeini's denunciation of the United States as the ''Great Satan," shocked Washington and began a confrontation between America and Iran that has lasted to this day.
The U.S. government has strongly objected to several aspects of Iranian behavior:(a) Iran's support for international terrorism, (b) its backing of violent opponents to the Middle East peace process, (c)its quest to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, (d) its acquisition of conventional weapons (e.g. the recent purchase of Russian submarines), (e) its support for groups opposing secular regimes in the Muslim world (e.g. the Bahraini Shia opposition), and (f) its abuse of the human rights of its citizens.1 The American goal is ''to convince the leadership in Tehran to abandon these policies and abide by international ''norms."2 The United States wants the Iranian leaders to "change their policies in order to serve Iran's interests. ...economic growth and political stability."3
American economic restrictions on Iran are far tougher than those of any other country. The United States has long banned all Iranian imports, as well as the sale to Iran of sensitive military or dual-use items. The United States has also undertaken a sustained diplomatic effort to persuade other countries to impose equally harsh sanctions on Iran.4
As for Iraq, the current American confrontation with Baghdad dates back to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. Relations with Iraq had gone through periods of severe tension before, but in the 1980s, and until the invasion, they seemed to be improving. In 1990-91, the United States took the lead in putting together an international coalition, including key Arab states, that expelled Iraq from Kuwait in Desert Storm.
The United States objects to Iraq's threats and attacks on its neighbors, its attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, its abuse of its own people and the use of force against them, and its support for terrorism.5 These were the stated reasons the United States intervened in 1990-91 and then strongly supported the international postwar effort to contain Iraq and dismantle much of its remaining military arsenal.6
In mid-1991, after Desert Storm, the expectation in Washington and in most capitals was that Iraqi military or political elements would remove Saddam and adopt a policy acceptable to Iraq's neighbors and the United Nations. When this did not occur, the international coalition imposed on Iraq controls as intrusive as any ever placed on a country's military and economic freedom. Moreover, it was widely assumed that the Iraqi generals, who had been humiliated by Saddam's fruitless and costly eight-year war against Iran and his equally fruitless and costly occupation of Kuwait, would bring him down. Even if he did not fall, everyone expected that Iraq would be compelled to turn inward, end its threats to its neighbors and its development of weapons of mass destruction, and rally the support of its minorities.
When the Clinton administration came into office in 1992, officials labeled this confrontation with Iraq and Iran "dual containment," declaring that both were "backlash" or "rogue" states that threatened U.S. vital interests. Just as the United States had promoted the containment of the Soviet Union, a policy that Washington believed had led to the Soviet collapse, containment would now be applied to the two dangerous states in the Gulf, Iran and Iraq.7 U.S. officials explained, "Both Iran and Iraq blatantly disregard international norms of behavior, seek to dominate the Gulf and its petrochemical resources, and pose a direct threat to their neighbors. Our policy is committed to preventing either of these states from asserting hegemonic influence over the Gulf or acquiring weapons of mass destruction."8
As for the other six states of the Persian Gulf region - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman - the United States has cultivated growing relations with them in economic, military-strategic and political arenas. America has had close ties with Saudi Arabia since World War II, and, after the British left the lower Gulf in 1971, the United States also expanded its ties there.
In the first year or two after Desert Storm (1991-93), American policy seemed to be effective. The U.S. military maintained a significant forward presence in the Gulf as a demonstration of support for the six smaller Arab states there, and American diplomats quietly worked to encourage key states to continue to support the embargo on Iraq and to join in economic sanctions against Iran. Iraq remained shackled, unable to develop weapons of mass destruction or threaten its neighbors as it wished. As for Iran. it was cut off from new loans from international organizations like the World Bank and from some bilateral sources of funding; it has faced more severe economic problems; and it has been WW>le to develop weapons of mass destruction or replenish its conventional arms inventory as rapidly as it wished. The United States persuaded the Group of Seven (G-7) to deny arms to Iran, and has achieved the commitment of 33 weapons-producing nations under the Wassenaar Agreement not to sell Iran weapons or sensitive dual-use items. Russia, formerly Iran's principal arms supplier, joined this agreement, and has also made some other commitments to the United States to restrict assistance to Iran.9
AMERICAN ESCALATION OF CONTAINMENT
When time passed and Saddam Hussein did not fall or give up trying to defy the international community, and Iran persisted in its behavior, the U.S. responded by maintaining and escalating the pressure on both.
In October 1994, Saddam moved significant numbers of troops southward towards the Kuwaiti border, in a manner that suggested to Washington that he might even try to go into Kuwait again. The United States responded promptly by deploying additional forces to the area as a deterrent, and Saddam pulled his forces back. The United States then persuaded the Security Council to ratchet up the controls on Iraq by passing resolution 949, prohibiting Iraq from introducing new ground forces into southern Iraq.
The United States also tightened economic measures on Iran, interpreting very strictly regulations against the export to Iran of "dual-use" items, so that even the export of American trucks was blocked by the White House on the grounds that they could carry soldiers.
In the spring of 1995, the United States further tightened the economic restrictions on Iran. When the Conoco oil company announced an agreement to help Iran develop an offshore oil field, Washington blocked the deal. Then a May 6, 1995, executive order banned U.S. companies and their overseas branches from all trade with Iran.10 An administration official explained the rationale: "By pressuring Iran's economy, we seek to limit the government's finances and thereby constrict Iran's ability to fund rogue activities.... Making Iran pay a price for its unacceptable activities is the best way to convince the Iranian leadership that it is their country’s best interest to abandon these policies."11
Then in 1996, despite strong objections from our allies and his own earlier opposition to it,12 President Clinton took another step, signing into law the Iran and Libya sanctions bill, intended to punish European and other countries that were continuing to trade with Iran.
In the same year, the president also tightened restrictions on Iraq. In August September 1996, when Iraqi forces moved into the northern city of Irbil, he declared that the southern no-fly zone would be expanded northward from the 32nd to the 33rd parallel, just outside Baghdad. The United States also launched cruise missiles into Iraq and led the move in the United Nations to suspend plans to allow Iraq to export some of its oil. President Clinton explained that his action was related both to Saddam's internal policy (attacking Irbil) and also to his foreign policy. He said, "When you abuse your own people and threaten your neighbors you must pay a price." He said it would "significantly restrict Iraq's ability to conduct offensive operations in the region."13
In the more than five years since Desert Storm, it has become increasingly evident that the policy against Iraq and Iran is not achieving its stated objectives.
On Iraq, our carefully constructed Desert Storm coalition is eroding with time as Saddam proves to be more adept at staying in power than anyone expected, skillfully using ruthlessness and terror to protect himself. By staying in power, he has had some success in undermining the coalition against him.
The Russians and French, key Desert Storm allies in 1990-9 1 , have moved furthest away from our position, openly talking about a new approach. The U.S. military has been forced to carry most of the burden of enforcing measures against Iraq, with the Air Force flying most of the sorties over Iraq to police the no-fly zones and the Navy doing most of the interdiction of sanctions-busting ships. Britain, France and others made small military contributions only, and they are increasingly reluctant to offer political support beyond voting for U.N. sanctions resolutions. As for Russia, Iraq's former leading ally in the region, its support for Desert Storm and the postwar restrictions on Iraq was also crucial to the success of these policies. But now, especially with Arab expert Yevgeny Primakov as foreign minister, Russia seems to be interested in a reconciliation with Iraq.14
The smaller Arab states of the Gulf, whose enthusiastic support for Desert Storm and post war measures against Iraq made them politically possible, have also begun to have second thoughts. Although they continue to want to see Saddam fall, with the passage of time they have become increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that he has stayed in power while the Iraqi people continue to suffer. As Arabs they fear they will be blamed for not somehow helping the Iraqi people. They helped pay for Desert Storm, and they have continued to provide some material support to the American military in the Gulf afterwards, but with increasing reluctance. Most of them were unwilling to pay for the American deployment in October 1994, partly because the United States did not make a sufficient effort during the crisis to persuade them that the threat was real. Moreover, the U.S. move against Iraq in September 1996 was supported explicitly only by Kuwait and Britain. For the first time since Desert Storm, Saudi Arabia itself refused to allow U.S. forces to launch cruise missiles against Iraq from its territory. Then in November and December 1996, UAE President Shaikh Zayid, once among the staunchest supporters of the policy of confronting Iraq, suggested for the first time publicly that the Kuwaitis should attempt to relax tensions with Baghdad.15 Prior to that, other Gulf states such as Oman and Qatar had also given indications of their interest in softening the policy on Iraq.
The very substantial U.S. military measures have not accomplished our objectives. At the same time, to many people in the Gulf, the American presence seems to be solely military. Although high-level political leaders from European and other countries, including prime ministers, frequently visit Gulf rulers to seek their advice and support, senior American officials rarely do so. When they visit the Gulf, American officials are often more interested in asking for money than in consultation. Gulf leaders know that the United States is a super-power with world-wide responsibilities, and they want American military assistance in case of another major crisis, but they would like to engage in a higher level of political dialogue as well.
The myth is growing among people in the Gulf that Saddam is able to stay in power because the United States wants him there, so that America can sell more arms to Iraq's Arab neighbors. The Iraqi opposition, too, has remained weak and divided, and in October 1996 an open split between the two main Kurdish factions led one of them to collaborate with Saddam, their greatest enemy. This collaboration was a political victory for Saddam, because it showed the fatal weakness of the opposition. He then accepted U.N. Security Council Resolution 949 which allowed him to sell oil for the first time, and although there were extensive safeguards to ensure that the sale proceeds would not just benefit the Iraqi regime, he portrayed it as the beginning of the end of sanctions. 16 That is not necessarily so, but erosion in the coalition continues. In any case, if Saddam fell today, the Arab states would almost certainly press immediately for normalization of relations with Iraq.
The myth is also growing in the Gulf that the United States seeks the permanent weakening or breakup of Iraq, and this causes concern among our friends. Turkey, which had been a coalition stalwart, has reduced its cooperation against Saddam partly because of concerns about a weak Iraq affecting its own Kurdish problem, and partly for economic reasons. The Arab states also do not want a permanently weak Iraq, or Kurdish independence, and they fear U.S. policy is leading to both.
Maintenance of the anti-Saddam coalition has so far been partly the result of luck. since Saddam has made repeated tactical blunders, for example moving troops menacingly in 1994 just before a U.N. Security Council vote.
As for Iran, U.S. cancellation of the Conoco deal and banning of all economic dealings have made it easier for Tehran to mobilize popular support against the United States as the country that simply wants to do them harm, and it has also widened the split with our allies. The contrast between the U.S. and the European approach of "critical dialogue" is growing. Although the Europeans have not succeeded in changing Iran's behavior either - Washington argues that dialogue without economic pressure is ineffectual17 - they persist in trying, and meanwhile they continue to do business with Iran. Nor has the United States been entirely successful in influencing Russian policy on Iran, as President Clinton has more than once complained.18 And in December 1996 Turkey signed a trade agreement with Iran over U.S. objections.19
SUGGESTED POLICY MODIFICATIONS
Washington's assessment of Iran and Iraq is probably correct, that their behavior threatens U.S. interests, but U.S. measures to deal with these threats are not succeeding. Administration officials continue to defend the policy, hoping it will work eventually, and some observers argue that we must be patient because containment of the USSR took decades before it finally succeeded.20 But successful containment requires cooperation from key states, and in the Gulf that cooperation is weak and eroding.
Critics usually fail to explain how changes in policy would work to deal with the very real Iranian and Iraqi threats to U.S. interests. The following are four recommended tactical changes in U.S. policy which, if followed, should help lead us to our stated objectives in the Gulf:
1. Declare amnesty for Saddam's associates;
2. Modify our economic measures against Iran;
3. Focus more on external than domestic policies;
4. Intensify our diplomacy.
These four recommendations are intended to have positive practical consequences. As with all policies, they have some negative aspects, but the positives greatly outweigh the negatives.
1. Amnesty for Iraqis
Our most urgent problem in the Gulf is Iraq, because the Desert Storm coalition is unraveling rapidly. We should focus on achieving within one year-two at most-the goal we have held since 1990 of a basic change in Iraqi policy.
Saddam Hussein is the crux of the problem. It is crystal clear by now, more than six years after the invasion of Kuwait, that he will not change his ways and that Iraq's behavior will not fundamentally change until he is out of power.
It was earlier argued by some that any successor would be just as bad as Saddam has been. and that he would continue to follow Saddam's policies with the same ruthlessness. This is so unlikely now that it is almost inconceivable. Saddam Hussein has given ample evidence that he cannot behave in a typical fashion but is, in fact, unique. His behavior is so unusual that his Arab neighbors, including all of the leaders of the Arab Gulf states, as well as Jordan's King Hussein and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, were genuinely surprised when Saddam occupied all of Kuwait in August 1990. No Arab leader had done that before in modem times. Then in the following six months he again defied expectations when he refused to make a deal in the face of overwhelming military power and allowed the war to start After suffering a crushing military defeat, he again defied the norm by missing many opportunities to make concessions to lift the U.N. sanctions.
Saddam is a megalomaniac who is convinced he knows best and keeps his own counsel. He rules through terror and brutality to the extent that he had his own son-in-law killed for opposing him, an act that shocked most Arabs. Saddam has killed or frightened into exile all potential opponents, and it is highly unlikely that a successor would have the will or the ability to create the same system of power any time soon. The next leader may be tough and undemocratic but he will not enjoy the same power base built on fear that Saddam has. Also, over the years, Saddam has eliminated anyone who showed any leadership ambitions.
The key to Saddam's hold on power-and to his departure-is the ruling elite around him. Saddam could easily suppress a popular uprising. It is unlikely that an outside effort to unseat him could succeed, and the opposition in any case is weak and divided. The only real chance to remove him from power is from an inside coup d’état; Saddam is very careful about his security, and only the top civilian and military leaders have any access to him. Only they could remove him from power. He gives these few insiders special privileges, however, including priority access to the food and medicine Iraq has been importing under the U.N. embargo rules.
The Iraqi elite have, however, not brought him down, for several reasons. First, they fear being caught; Saddam's security officers have thwarted several coup attempts, and he has dealt unmercifully with the perpetrators. Second, they fear that they would go down with him. Senior officials today have a choice between surviving, with special privileges, or dying by his order. They would take action against him only if they saw a realistic chance of surviving him.
The first recommendation, therefore, is to declare an amnesty for everyone in the Iraqi leadership except for Saddam, saying that they all must leave power but that they will be immune from punishment for their participation in his regime. They would be allowed to retire in peace after he falls. Offering them amnesty would help to loosen his control over them and encourage them to plot seriously against him, or at least not betray the coup plotters. Can we offer them amnesty, knowing they helped him carry out his brutal acts? Can we absolve them when they are co conspirators? As a practical matter, this is the only realistic way to break Saddam's hold on power. If we want to get him out, we must do it Saddam controls his key lieutenants through a combination of fear and dependency, and that link must be broken.
How can we guarantee an amnesty against an angry mob of Iraqis when Saddam falls? There is no guarantee, but, if we are serious about this approach, the international community could find ways to make reasonable assurances of safe passage.
The choice facing us, after nearly six years of waiting in vain for someone to mount a successful coup against Saddam, is between more waiting in vain as the coalition unravels or focusing our effort on Saddam Hussein's criminal responsibility, in order to remove him.
We should also facilitate Saddam's departure by preparing now for a quick shift in policy as soon as Saddam falls from power. Our purpose should be to help reintegrate Iraq into the regional community as a state that will be helpful to us regionally, including to our policy toward Iran. We should make clear now that in the post-Saddam era, we will cooperate with Iraq if it adopts a friendly attitude towards Kuwait and the other GCC states, accepts the current international borders and gives up irredentism, settles claims from the 1990-91 crisis including those involving missing Kuwaitis, and gives up its attempts to build weapons of mass destruction. We should declare again that we fully support Iraq's territorial integrity and unity, to help dispel the belief that we seek to divide the country. We should encourage change by clearly stating now that, if Iraq turns inward and concentrates its attention on economic development, we would support full trade and commerce by the United States and its allies and approve of any economic assistance any state wishes to offer Iraq to help it recover.
2. Adjust our economic measures against Iran
As we focus primarily on bringing Saddam Hussein down, in the near term, we should simultaneously ease off for now on the most severe economic aspects of our confrontation with Iran. We should not abandon our demands that Iran change its behavior with respect to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but we could lower the level of our anti-Iranian rhetoric and reduce some of the most recent economic measures we have taken against Iran, which have primarily hurt U.S. companies and changed little in Iran.
Effective policy means setting priorities based on our interests and the circumstances, and there are several reasons for making this shift.
First, reducing confrontation with Iran will help us concentrate on resolving the primary conflict with Iraq. If, in the next year or two, we can bring about the fall of Saddam and a consequent improvement in Iraqi behavior, it will then be easier to deal with the Iranian threat The international coalition against Saddam is eroding now so fast that it probably will break down completely if he stays in power for the next two to three years as Russia, Turkey and several West European states make bilateral deals with him for their own purposes. That would destroy any remaining hope that the embargo would force him out or change his policy. The United States would then have to choose between following suit and belatedly giving up the embargo also, or holding on in vain to a failed effort. The December 1996 remarks about reconciliation with Iraq by UAE President Shaikh Zayid are only the most recent signs of this shift, but they are significant because they came from an astute Gulf leader who previously had been one of the staunchest advocates of a confrontation policy. Erosion could now quickly get out of hand.
Second, the Iran problem is less immediately urgent than the Iraq problem. It is true that Iran during the next two or three years will continue to build up its military capabilities and to support terrorist activities in the region, but Iran is not expected to acquire a nuclear capability or otherwise pose a serious threat to vital U.S. interests in that period. If we can bring about the fall of Saddam in the next year or two and a consequent improvement in Iraqi behavior, it will then be easier to deal with the Iranian threat Resolving the outstanding issues with Iran will require a more long-term, persistent effort, because of the nature of the Iranian regime and because mutual mistrust is so deep. There are differences of opinion within the leadership in Tehran, with some preferring a more pragmatic approach that could lead to a foreign policy more acceptable to the United States. Ways should be found to encourage them without compromising our essential requirements.
Third, the United States should rescind its most extreme economic measures against Iran; they have not changed Iran's political behavior and have only cost America economically.21 The cost results from the fact that Iran has other important trading partners. U.S. officials defend the comprehensive trade ban on the grounds that Iran's budget items are fungible, and any economic benefit can be put to military use, but that reasoning is flawed, because other key countries do not cooperate with us in the embargo.
Our current policy toward Iran, which bans virtually all transactions by Americans with Iranians, has not changed Iran's fundamental behavior. Now is a good time to test the proposition that Iran might begin a gradual reconciliation through economic ties. We could test it by reverting to our posture of early 1995 and giving the dual-use rule a more flexible interpretation-for example, by allowing the sale to Iran of non-lethal items such as trucks. It is true, as U.S. officials point out, that it is Tehran which refuses to talk to Washington,22 and the Iranian hard line will not disappear over night, but opening the door to trade might eventually lead to a political dialogue acceptable to us. If it does not, the United States will have lost little politically and will have gained economically.
The 1995 decision to block the Conoco deal with Iran is an example of a move that failed to achieve its political objective (denying Iran Western technology and sending it a message); the French company Total moved in when Conoco had to back out Moreover, Iran's decision to work with a U.S. company could have been a trial balloon by those in the Iranian leadership who wanted to test whether a modest opening to the United States was possible.23 By blocking the deal, the United States gave credibility to the Iranian claim that America wants to harm the Iranian people by retarding development of the oil industry.
The U.S. government's intent in supporting the 1996 Iran and Libya Sanctions Bill was "to maximize the pressure on Iran and Libya while minimizing the costs to other American interests."24 It can be argued that U.S. policy is failing that test
Critics of this suggestion will say that we cannot lower our confrontation because Iran threatens U.S. interests as much as Iraq, so we must "contain" them both. That argument ignores the fact that confronting them both simultaneously and using the simplistic catch phrase "dual containment'' reduces our ability to deal effectively with either and may help bring them together. The U.S. government made Iran the priority in 1991, when it seemed that the Iraq problem was solved, because of Iran's continuing public hostility to us, our memory of the hostage crisis, and to avoid making the miscalculation that we made in 1990, when Saddam was preparing his aggression. But now it is our Iraq policy that is in more urgent need of repair.
While reducing trade restrictions, we should continue to use the diplomatic, political and even economic means at our disposal to persuade other countries to take steps to oppose Iran's acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, its support for terrorism in the region and its opposition to the peace process. By focusing our attention on these specific issues while allowing U.S. companies to trade with Iran, we would be helping to clarify to the Iranian regime and to others exactly what we want from Tehran, and increasing the likelihood of achieving it Iranian leaders are divided on policy, and this approach would have a better chance than the current one of encouraging those who advocate a rapprochement with the United States.
3. Focus on external policies
U.S. policy statements on both Iran and Iraq include goals involving their internal political systems. For very practical reasons, however, the United States should give priority to these countries' foreign policies.
U.S. officials are always tempted, when explaining the rationale for a policy of confrontation with states such as Iran and Iraq, to come up with an indictment that usually includes the country's lack of democracy, violations of human rights, or other internal matters. These domestic policy items are added in order to persuade the public to endorse a policy that the government has decided on for other, perhaps less noble, reasons. Like prosecuting attorneys, we hope to increase the chances of a conviction by demonizing the accused. Compiling a list of grievances, however, can sometimes undermine the priority objectives. The United States may be the sole superpower today, but that power is much less effective in controlling another country's internal policy than its external behavior.
It has been easy for the Clinton administration to endorse the goal of democratization around the world, especially after the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of fledgling democracies in the successor states. It is also tempting to rush in to help protect Kurds and other oppressed minorities whose suffering is depicted on CNN. Yet if the United States loudly proclaims concern for democracy and human rights, people in the Middle East and elsewhere are misled to think that Washington will intervene to defend those principles. In practice, we rarely do. We also create the impression of a double standard when we are selective, for example, in denouncing internal policies in Iraq and Iran while not saying anything at all about them in Saudi Arabia.
The establishment of a particular domestic political system such as democracy in Iraq, Iran or anywhere else is primarily the responsibility of the people themselves, not outsiders. External issues in the Gulf are more likely to be immediate threats to core U.S. national interests, and we should concentrate primarily on them.
America should continue to support democracy and human rights in Iraq and Iran because this stance reflects our ideals and promotes stability, but the effort should be a long-term one undertaken through quiet diplomacy to encourage these states to gradually broaden participation in order to remain popular and avoid a violent revolution. In the case of Iraq after Saddam, the country is unlikely to do, all at once, everything we want stop threatening its neighbors, supporting terrorism, and building weapons of mass destruction, and also become a pluralistic democracy. We should concentrate on the first three goals for the near term by encouraging a new Iraqi leadership to take over and hope that there is a chance that the internal political changes might be accomplished over time by the Iraqi people. This does not mean that we would abandon our public support for democracy everywhere, including Iraq. But we should not expect an Iraqi Thomas Jefferson to appear with the fall of Saddam and organize free elections, and we should not make that event a condition of welcoming Iraq back into the community of nations.
4. Intensify our Diplomacy
Finally, we should increase the likelihood that our policies will succeed by elevating our diplomatic campaign to generate more cooperation from America's friends and allies. The U.S. effort to engender international support has been carried out almost entirely at the level of career diplomats who have worked with great skill and diligence, but with only limited results.
One reason for the lack of support from our allies is that they do not believe dual containment is a high priority for us. The effort needs direct involvement on a regular basis by the president and cabinet-level officials. Moreover, it is not enough, even for the world's only superpower, to take unilateral action and expect others to support it or even acquiesce in it American policy in the 1990-91 Gulf crisis was highly successful not only because we were willing to take the lead and send our troops to the Gulf, but also because the U.S. administration made a vigorous and continuing diplomatic effort at the highest level to persuade states in the region and around the world to support us.
For example, when the United States took economic action against Iran in 1995-96, and military action against Iraq in 1996, these actions were not accompanied by presidential diplomacy with our allies and friends. The likelihood of success in foreign policy initiatives increases if the president and his representatives lobby hard with friends and allies before, during and after taking steps designed to achieve specific goals. The U.S. administration apparently expected that its strong moves to ratchet up the confrontations with Iraq and Iran would by themselves cause others to fall in line and do likewise or at lea.51 to refrain from undermining our action. As President Clinton put it in explaining why he blocked the Conoco deal with Iran in 1995, "There are times when these important [economic] interests must give way to even more important interests. This is one of those times.... If we are to succeed in getting other countries to make sacrifices in order to change Iran's behavior, we too must be willing to sacrifice."25
Yet containment policies cannot succeed without substantial international support. Unilateralism without diplomacy can result in our being isolated with a failing policy. Cultivating the United Nations is important, since we are always in a stronger position if we have its endorsement, but any U.N. vote must be preceded by quiet consultation among our allies and friends to be sure they agree with us.
Finally, the United States should give more high-level diplomatic and political attention to our partners in the Gulf, to balance our military presence. The latter is essential and should not be diminished unless our partners ask us to leave, which they are unlikely to do. Some in the Gulf believe the United States only wants political talks with Gulf leaders to discuss Israel or ask for money and makes decisions on Gulf matters (e.g., the Iran embargo or strikes on Baghdad without consulting them first. Even a modest increase in high-level political consultations on Gulf issues will do much to shore up a relationship that the United States has long declared to be important but that today needs some mending.
In short, our friends and allies in Europe and in the Gulf itself have never fully supported our severe measures against Iran, and they are rapidly losing interest in supporting our measures against Iraq. We have been persisting with policies that seemed to make sense in 1990-1 but have not accomplished our objectives. If the United States wants to succeed in the Gulf, we must recognize this strategic flaw. The most urgent need is to adjust our policy on Iraq to achieve the intended goal. The four tactical adjustments outlined above may do that, and they are worth trying before it is too late.
1 President Clinton, in remarks to a World Jewish Congress dinner, April 30, 1995, cited the first three items; and Under Secretary of State Peter Tarnoff, in a statement before the House International Relations Committee, Washington D.C., November 9, 1995 (State Department press release "Containing Iran"), listed all items, as did Ellen Laipson, director of Near East and South Asian Affairs, National Security Council, in a statement on May 25, 1995, quoted in Middle East Policy vol. IV, nos. 1&2, September 1995, pp. 1-5.
2 Statement by Tarnoff, November 9, 1995, op. cit.
3 Statement by Tarnoff, Nov. 9, 1995, and Laipson, May 25, 1996, op. cit. Also, see statement by Ambassador Robert H. Pelletreau, assistant secretary of state, to the House International Relations Committee, Subcommittee on International Economic Policy and Trade, May 2, 1996, who said that U.S. policy toward Iran is "...thwarting terrorism, advancing the Arab-Israeli peace process, fighting the spread of nuclear weapons, and maintaining security in the Persian Gulf."
4 Statement by Tarnoff, November 9, 1995; and statement by Pelletreau, May 2, 1996; op. cit.
5 Statement by President Clinton to the press, in the oval office, September 3, 1996.
6 U.S. officials also cite U.N. Security Council resolutions as justification for stringent measures, including UNSCR 687, which ended the Gulf War and set terms for the cease-fire, and made explicit the Council's need to be assured of Iraq's peaceful intentions, which the United States says has not been done. Statement by Pelletreau before the House Committee on International Relations, Washington D.C., August 2, 1995.
7 U.S. National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, "Confronting Backlash States," Foreign Affairs, March/April 1994.
8 Statement by Pelletreau before the House Committee on International Relations, Washington, D.C. September 25, 1996.
9 Statement by Pelletreau before the House Committee on International Relations, September 25, 1996. See also Remarks by President Clinton at a World Jewish Congress dinner, Washington, D.C., April 30, 1995, and statement by Tarnoff, November 9, 1995, op. cit.
10 Statement by President Clinton at World Jewish Congress dinner, April 30, 1995, and policy guidance on Executive Order no. 12959 in State Department cable 116152 of May 11, 1995, "Guidance to Business on New Iran Sanctions."
11 Statement by Tarnoff, November 9, 1995, op. cit.
12 President Clinton in May 1995 had explicitly opposed this kind of secondary boycott because it "would cause unnecessary strain with our allies."
13 Statement by President Clinton to the press, Washington D.C., Sept. 3, 1996.
14 Yevgeny Primakov, who speaks Arabic, was Pravda's Middle East correspondent 1962-70, then a senior Soviet official. In January 1991, he was sent to Baghdad in an effort to settle the conflict.
15 Shaikh Zayid and UAE officials in late November 1996 said publicly and for the first time since 1990 that Kuwait and other GCC states should seek to normalize relations with Iraq. Sec The Emirates News November 28, 1996 and The Emirates, published by the UAE Information Ministry, November 28, 1996.
16 For years Saddam had refused a U.N. offer under Security Council resolutions 706 and 712 and then 986 to sell $2 billion worth of oil every six months in return for increased imports, because the offer contained safeguards, but he finally accepted it in December 1996.
17 President Clinton said in remarks at a World Jewish Congress dinner, Washington D.C., April 30, 1995, "Some argue for engagement to change Iran's behavior, but the last two years have proved otherwise....There is nothing to suggest that further engagement will alter their course."
18 Sec for example his remarks at the World Jewish Congress, April 30, 1995, op. cit.
19 The Washington Post, December 22, 1996, p. A31.
20 Peter W. Rodman, "Why Ease Up on Iran?" The Washington Post op-ed, December 11, 1996, p. A25.
21 Before 1995, the United States was a significant supplier of Iranian imports, amounting to nearly $1 billion, and U.S. oil companies did substantial business in Iranian petroleum. All of that was blocked in 1995-96.
22 For example President Rafsanjani said at his June 1994 press conference, "The Americans want to have talks, but we do not perceive that it is in our interest to start talks." Tehran Resalat June 7, 1994, reported in FBIS June 17, 1994.
23 In fact, a U.S. official, while not conceding that point, has noted that Iran’s decision at that time to allow Total to develop an offshore oil field constituted "a dramatic shift in Iranian policy brought on by Iran's cash-flow problems." Statement by Acting Assistant Secretary of State C. David Welch before the House Ways and Means Committee, Subcommittee on Trade, May 22, 1996.
24 Statement by Welch, May 22, 1996, op. cit.
25 Remarks by President Clinton to the World Jewish Congress, op. cit. Other senior officials have echoed that theme, e.g., Tarnoff, November 9, 1995; Pelletreau, May 2, 1996; and Welch, May 22, 1996; op. cit.