STRATFOR, 11 February 2002
While the United States continues a war of words against Iraq, Baghdad's allies are beginning to melt away. Russia has reversed its position, China is offering the bare minimum of support and the Arab states are resigned to the inevitable. Should the United States decide to take action against Baghdad, few countries will publicly stand in its way.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a House of Representatives committee Feb. 6 that the United States might have to act alone to bring about a "regime change" in Iraq. Powell said that U.S. President George W. Bush is considering "the most serious set of options one might imagine" for dealing with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, The Associated Press reported.
Powell's statements come after a series of diplomatic disappointments for Iraq. Long-time supporters Russia and China are quietly distancing themselves from Baghdad, and Iraq's Arab neighbors are beginning to accept what they see as an inevitable outcome. Although few nations actively support the idea of U.S. military action against the country, few if any will make a serious effort to stop Washington.
If the United States does make good on its warnings toward Iraq, it will need more than the grudging acceptance it has so far received from several frontline states such as Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait. And Washington still needs time to cajole a reluctant Saudi Arabia. But outside the Middle East, much of the diplomatic heavy lifting is already done.
Hussein has little hope that his Arab neighbors will be able to keep the United States from carrying out military action. A recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out that a number of Arab regimes such as Egypt and Jordan are quietly signaling their approval of a U.S. campaign against Iraq. This is in part because they would like to see the erratic Hussein gone, they don't want to endanger Washington's political and economic support and any attempt to stop the Bush administration would likely prove fruitless anyway.
Many of these nations will continue their current efforts to pacify their populations by publicly condemning U.S. actions for a time, but privately they won't interfere with Washington, and several will offer logistical support. But there are two conditions. First, Iraq's territorial integrity must be maintained -- none of Baghdad's neighbors want to see a Kurdish or Shiite enclave break away. Second, none of these regimes, especially Turkey and Saudi Arabia, want a replay of the Persian Gulf War. This time the Hussein regime must be toppled for good.
Hussein's strongest diplomatic backers have always been Russia and China, but their support is evaporating as well. Russia's official position -- as evidenced by a Feb. 11 Wall Street Journal interview with President Vladimir Putin -- is still opposed to any military campaign against Iraq. But actions speak louder than words, and Moscow is definitely cooling its relations with Baghdad.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz made two visits to Moscow in 10 days. The first, from Jan. 25-27, went much as Aziz expected. He met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who said Moscow opposes U.S. military action against Iraq and wants to see long-standing U.N. sanctions against the country lifted.
But the Russian position collapsed after Bush's Jan. 29 State of the Union address, which was extremely aggressive with regard to Iraq. Aziz returned to Moscow Jan. 30 expecting more talks. But Ivanov reportedly refused to meet with him and suggested that no further talks would be held until Baghdad gave some ground on allowing U.N. weapons inspectors into Iraq, according to Russian daily Kommersant. As Aziz was flying home, Russian diplomats termed the visit a "technical stopover," according to Interfax.
Moscow's switch reflects its new foreign policy orientation, which emphasizes strategic partnership with the United States and Europe to get the economic engagement necessary to rebuild the country. Moscow would rather not back away from its relationship with longtime ally and oil partner Iraq. But Russia is cutting its strategic losses, betting that the Hussein regime isn't going to be around much longer and calculating that a relationship with Washington will pay off more.
In fact, Moscow may already be receiving part of this payoff. Powell announced Feb. 6 that the United States would sign a legally binding agreement on nuclear arms cuts, something that Moscow had been pushing for weeks.
After his failed Russia trip, Aziz didn't have much better luck in Beijing. He did get to meet with Prime Minister Zhu Rongji and Vice Prime Minister Qian Qichen. But both leaders offered precious little support.
Qian told Aziz that China does not support the expansion of the anti-terrorism war and stressed that Iraq should cooperate with the United Nations in order to avoid "new and complicated situations," according to Xinhua. In other words, Iraq should not look to China to stop the United States but should play by the rules, let in U.N. weapons inspectors and hope to shift the tide of world opinion in its favor.
Like their colleagues in Russia, the Chinese foreign policy apparatus is in a tizzy trying to adjust to Washington's rapidly developing war plans. And like the Russians, the Chinese leadership's first priority is ensuring that Beijing stays on Washington's good side.
Losing two of his biggest sponsors leaves Hussein without many options. He is now embarking on a full-tilt diplomatic and public relations offensive, focused especially on Europe. Iraq announced Feb. 3 that it would reopen its embassy in Switzerland and would dispatch a delegation to Spain, which currently chairs the European Union.
Hussein also volunteered to open his country to human-rights inspectors, who have been kept out of Iraq for a decade. And he sent word to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that he is ready to start negotiations on letting weapons inspectors back into Iraq, according to United Arab Emirates daily Al-Bayan.
The next few months will see volleys of diplomatic maneuvering as the Iraqis attempt to spit-shine their blood-soaked public image and Washington attempts to find a way to unseat Hussein with a minimum amount of U.S. casualties and diplomatic backlash. Ultimately, the harder part for Washington will not be getting Hussein out but figuring out what to do after he is gone.
Copyright © 2002 Strategic Forecasting LLC. All rights reserved.
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Copyright © 2002 Strategic Forecasting LLC. All rights reserved.