Is Clinton Another Eden? Is it Suez ’56 All Over Again?

by Patrick J. Buchanan – February 23, 1998

“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far!” Theodore Roosevelt admonished. Yet not a day has passed lately without Madeleine Albright or Sandy Berger shaking a fist at Saddam Hussein. He has kept his mouth shut. Now it is we who have to backpedal on what U.S. power can accomplish. Due to our hubris, more nations than we might imagine would rejoice in a U.S. humiliation…

As the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Cold War, this Persian Gulf crisis may mark the end of the post-Cold War era, a brief interlude in history in which America found only frustration as it sought to impose its vision on the world.
As of now, there seem three possible outcomes to the crisis. If Bill Clinton “declares victory” and calls off his air strikes after last-minute concessions by Baghdad, it will be seen as a U.S. defeat. Saddam’s prestige will soar; America’s will plummet; and the message will go out to the world: U.S. power can be defied!

Should the president launch his strikes and Baghdad ride them out, Saddam will be a hero in the Arab streets. He will have stood up to the world’s greatest power, taken his beating and refused to buckle. Our military strikes could bring about a debacle, with CNN footage of dead Iraqi children igniting an explosion that destabilizes the remaining pro-American regimes in the Arab world.

Clinton might do well to pick up a biography of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, architect of the 1956 invasion of Suez. Eden felt that Israel’s seizure of the Sinai and the British-French capture of the canal Egypt’s Nasser had nationalized would bring him down. Instead, Nasser’s standing soared, and Eden’s government fell. In politics, you can win by losing.

The U.S. option that might work would be devastating strikes on Iraq’s war machine that might shake the regime. But U.S. strike planes are being denied use of the air bases in Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and every Gulf state except Kuwait. And U.S. air power in the Gulf is less than 20 percent of Desert Storm levels. Moreover, the United States anticipates only a few days of strikes, not the six weeks Gen. Schwarzkopf had. How, then, even if all the weapons used are precision-guided “smart bombs,” do we blast Saddam out of power?

The United States is nearing endgame in the Gulf. If Saddam weathers this storm, future attacks are unlikely. He could emerge as an Arab hero in the Nasser mold who, despite the destruction of his country by an America at the peak of its power, and seven years of the most punishing of sanctions, endured and persevered.

Clinton could emerge as America’s Eden and the Gulf crisis America’s Suez. After Eden fell, his successor, Harold Macmillan, sent his famous cryptic telegram to President Eisenhower — “Over to You!” — and began closing all British bases east of Suez. It was the end of the British empire.

But if Clinton is facing a potential debacle, so are we, and we must begin to draw the proper lessons. The first is to stop this endless braggadocio about being the world’s “indispensable nation” and “last superpower.” If it has begun to grate even on American patriots, how must it grate on foreigners?

“Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far!” Theodore Roosevelt admonished. Yet not a day has passed lately without Madeleine Albright or Sandy Berger shaking a fist at Saddam Hussein. He has kept his mouth shut. Now it is we who have to backpedal on what U.S. power can accomplish. Due to our hubris, more nations than we might imagine would rejoice in a U.S. humiliation.

Clinton’s Wilsonian blather aside, there is no “world community.” Let us stop deluding ourselves. There is Russia, Iraq, China, France — each a nation driven by its own selfish interests.

Though the president trumpets that the “world will not tolerate” Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, it is apparent that the world will tolerate them, if the alternative is sacrifice and war. Clinton says Saddam must not be allowed to threaten his “neighbors.” But excepting Kuwait, not one of his neighbors — Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran — supports U.S. air strikes.

America may have to face up to the possibility that Saddam, like Fidel Castro, may survive and live to tell about how he mocked the great republic and, though punished severely, got away with it and died unrepentant. Such things happen — even to imperial powers.

But the United States does not need to kill Saddam or even to disarm him. This little Arab country does not threaten the United States. Indeed, the entire Gulf region has nothing America needs, save oil; and even those who despise us in Iran, Iraq and Libya want to sell it. It is we who refuse to let them. If, tomorrow, we lifted the embargo on Iraq, world oil prices would plunge to $10 a barrel.

Consider: Iran is the largest nation in the Gulf. Yet for 20 years, we have been totally isolated from it. Has that hurt America? If so, how? Rather than constantly armoring up and going abroad in search of monsters to destroy, why don’t we just wait here at home for our “friends” to dial 911 — and then consider their requests?