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Diplomacy Essential in U.S. Strategy



Douglas E. Heimburger

As Iwrite this column, it appears that good news is coming out of Iraq, and that the United States will not be heading to war this week against Saddam Hussein.

Nevertheless, it seems like the government has made major missteps that will lead to a reduction in our credibility as a world leader. By acting as a ruthless bully that holds grudges against some countries but not others, the United States has shown that it is not the cautioned world leader that it should be.

In a way, the United States has been treating Iraq just as it has treated Cuba for the past thirty years - as a ruthless country that must be punished regardless of its actions and regardless of any reform.

In Cuba, the United States once had a plausible reason for sanctions. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was only logical to establish trade barriers against the closest bastion of communism in the western hemisphere.

But with the fall of communism, Cuba no longer threatens the United States. Once its supply connections with the Soviet Union were cut off, the nation slipped into poverty and today ranks as a country unable to completely support its own citizens' needs, let alone threaten the United States.

Yet the United States continues its ruthless assault on Cuba. Two years ago, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and Representative Dan Burton (R-Ind.)introduced and passed legislation that severely restricts the ability of other countries to legally conduct business with the country. Most notably, it prevents those doing any business with Cuba from entering the United States for any purpose. Furthermore, it allows citizens whose property was expatriated by Cuba during the 1950s to sue companies from other countries now using those facilities.

While the legality of this legislation has not yet been decided by the World Trade Organization, it smacks of American arrogance at a time when the country should be acting under a higher standard and rationally considers actions without grudges.

Despite the Pope's visit to Cuba, it doesn't seem that the position of Helms, Burton, or others in Congress will change soon.That's disgusting, especially when one considers that the United States is today the only country to have trade and travel sanctions against the country.

The United States, like other western countries, rushed to embrace eastern European countries back in the early 1990s when communism fell. We have worked hard to build diplomatic relations with these countries in the hopes of eventually converting them to a democratic government.Yet in the case of Cuba, we have steadfastly insisted on the opposite:change first, then recognition will follow.

Even other countries have realized what a ludicrous position the United States is in on this issue, and countries ranging from Canada to France have urged the United States to revisit its policies.

The situation in Iraq has come out of a similar series of missteps by the United States.

In 1991, we fostered international cooperation and built a multinational force to achieve United Nations objectives which had been carefully constructed through negotiation and trade-offs.

When we attacked Iraq, we did so with limited and noble objectives. We wanted to make Kuwait an independent state again and we disabled - for a time at least - Iraq's ability to make weapons of mass destruction.

After the war ended, the United Nations rightfully placed sanctions on Saddam Hussein and Iraq until it complied fully with regulations requiring it to open up its doors to outside inspectors and to destroy all its weapons of mass destruction.

Over time, Iraq has complied with the overwhelming majority of Security Council resolutions and has been rewarded by being allowed to sell a limited amount of its oil for humanitarian concerns.

Then Iraq decided unilaterally to demand that United States representatives not comprise the majority of inspectors. Similarly, it decided that its presidential palaces should be off-limits to inspectors.

These actions are belligerent and represent a smack in the face of the United Nations. But at the same time, the Iraqi government does have legitimate concerns about its sovereignty and protecting the privacy of its leaders.

The United States, presented with this quandary, had two ways in which it could progress: it could work out a diplomatic solution with Iraq that would address both sides' concerns, or it could unilaterally declare that if Iraq did not "fully comply" with all United Nations resolutions and that the United States would attack its facilities until it did.

The second option was the one that theUnited States chose. But, in many ways, it's the wrong one. Not only does it send a message that the United States does not believe in diplomacy, but it also threatens our position as a cooperative leader of the world community.

Russia, China, France, and almost all middle eastern nations have encouraged further diplomacy before any military action. Bombing Iraq now would be a smack in the face of the United Nations and history of cooperation.

Bombing Iraq would also severely harm the ability of the United States and the world community to ensure that Iraq remains in compliance in the future. It is extremely unlikely that Saddam Hussein will return to the current inspection regime. Instead, he would be likely to prohibit any United Nations inspections, further harming the inspection process and making future military action more likely.

It's good to hear, then, that U.N.Secretary General Kofi Annan SM '72 has brokered an agreement with Saddam Hussein that will likely meet the agreement of the United States.

Back in high school, Iparticipated in the Model United Nations, a program in which students take on the roles of diplomats to the United Nations and then proceed to act out the business of the body. From that activity, Ilearned that diplomacy can work, at least in a simulating setting. More importantly, Ilearned that those acting like bullies were quickly discredited and ignored by the more rational-thinking majority.

In this case, the United States is the bully, and the rest of the world the rational-thinking majority. Hopefully, the Clinton administration will learn something from these actions and will think more deeply before ending diplomacy in the future.