U.S. Must Work With Existing Foreign Governments

20 November 1998

By Stentor Danielson

Just when it looked like progress toward cooperation and the resolution of tension in the Persian Gulf area was back on track, President Bill Clinton issued a statement calling for the replacement of Saddam Hussein and his government. And, as if to reinforce the U.S.'s new policy of trying to remove uncooperative foreign governments, Vice President Al Gore made a statement to the same effect about the current Malaysian regime during an Asia Pacific Economic Corporation (APEC) conference.

The desire to get rid of Saddam is natural enough. He seems to be at the root of all our troubles in Iraq, from the Gulf War to the most recent weapons inspection crisis. But it is hardly sound foreign policy to officially sanction such views, or to advertise support for opposing factions. No matter how much we hate Saddam and dream about punching him in his sleazy little face, he is still the leader of Iraq, and therefore, he is the one we have to work with if there is to be any hope of resolving the arms situation and lifting the sanctions that are squeezing the life out of Iraq's people. The same ideas hold true for the current leaders of Malaysia. Whether Gore likes them or not, they are the leaders of Malaysia.

Clinton apparently does not understand the insult inherent in declaring an opposing faction to be preferable to the legitimate government. The insult was compounded in Gore's statement, since Malaysia is the host nation for the APEC summit where Gore declared the U.S.'s support of opposing factions.

Both of these insults were delivered with the impeccable timing that only the federal government can display. Just days ago, Saddam was on the verge of pushing Clinton to order air strikes at Iraqi military facilities. But now, he has begun to cooperate. We should be encouraging Saddam now, expressing confidence in him and trust that his new plan - full cooperation with United Nations (UN) arms inspectors - is the right thing to do. A program of trust and cooperation is the only way the situation in the Middle East can be brought to full resolution. But, instead, Clinton decided to deliver a statement of profound distrust.

There is no way I can see that anyone could believe that openly supporting anti-Saddam movements would help make Iraq more compliant with the resolution of the tensions still lingering from the Gulf war. Either Clinton is secretly hoping for a war to glorify his tenure and divert attention from Monica Lewinsky (a la the poorly-written film Wag the Dog), or he has little understanding of how to make enemies into friends.

Turning to Malaysia, we see that Gore's statement came during an APEC summit designed to find ways to resolve the economic crisis that has battered Asia like a financial Hurricane Mitch, and is spreading to the rest of the world. I'm sure that when the Malaysian government agreed to host the conference, they did not intend to have one of the delegates question the regime's legitimacy. These sort of international conferences go slowly enough to begin with, without antagonizing one of the nations involved with statements unrelated to the purpose of the meeting. Disagreements over political ideology have no place at a conference sponsored by a group that accepts everything from China's communist government to Brunei's monarchy in the interest of bettering the economy of the Pacific rim. How willing does Gore think Malaysia will be to accept the U.S.'s help and suggestions now?

I also fail to see how the formation of a new government would help the situations in Iraq and Malaysia. It sounds to me like Clinton and Gore's statements are a cop-out, making excuses for the pace of progress by blaming the governments they should be working with. It's very easy to say, "It's all Saddam's fault, there would be no problem if it weren't for him." But such quick-fixes are a fantasy. If Saddam was killed by rebels tonight, would the new group be any better at handling the situation? For all his flaws, Saddam Hussein is an experienced ruler who knows how his nation stands, and how negotiations with the U.S. and UN work.

The same is true for the current leaders of Malaysia. The process of organizing a new regime in any nation, especially when it results from the overthrow of the previous leaders, takes time.

On top of the counter-productiveness of advocating, or establishing, a new regime in Iraq or Malaysia, there is the moral question. What gives the U.S. the right to fiddle with foreign governments? Because we have bigger guns and more money, can we force compliance with our notions of how things ought to be? The citizens of Iraq and Malaysia were not born and raised in a fully-developed Western democracy. One needs only to look at the trouble Russia had in making a sudden governmental shift to see that the people need to work out their own government, one that works best for them and that they're comfortable with. The U.S. has no business deciding for them how they ought to be ruled. The U.S.'s job is to interact with whomever happens to be in power, to maintain the stability of the international situation and to protect American interests. We Americans are proud of the efforts our forefathers made to make this country what it is today. Do the future citizens of Iraq and Malaysia deserve any less?

At best, Clinton and Gore's statements as to the desirability of maintaining the current governments in Iraq and Malaysia are poorly thought out. Hopefully, the insult inherent in their words, and the turmoil bound to come if their plans are implemented, will not endanger what progress has been made toward gaining Iraq's cooperation in lifting the Gulf War sanctions and resolving the financial crisis in Asia. It is time for the U.S. to realize that our motto is "In God We Trust," not "God We Are."

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