Saddam's slow war

Austin Bay:

The latest quip accusation that the United States "rushed to war" with Saddam's Iraq conveniently ignores 12 years of combat, terror and crime.

Perhaps The Slow War -- Saddam's war against the U.N.-mandated sanctions and inspections regimen that halted Operation Desert Storm -- has slipped from public historical memory. It shouldn't, for The Slow War is the long, violent bridge connecting Desert Storm to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

From March 1991 to March 2003, Saddam fought The Slow War savvily and savagely, utilizing an array of political, military and economic ploys. Moreover, by early 2003, Saddam believed he was winning.

The Iraqi dictator had reasons to make that calculation. Recall the fall of 2002 -- and the growing realization that the entire post-Desert Storm sanctions regimen had withered. The curious lack of political will on the part of key Security Council members (France and Russia) to keep Saddam properly caged was increasingly evident.

What the world didn't know, and wouldn't learn until early 2004 when the Iraqi Interim Government began naming names, was how effectively Saddam had corrupted the Oil for Food program. Oil for Food, a program designed to provide food and medicine for the Iraqi people, had in fact become an insidious economic weapon in The Slow War, used to buy political influence and corrode the entire sanctions policy.

A recent article in "The Economist" quoted former Saddam crony Tariq Aziz as telling interrogators that Saddam had given France and Russia millions of dollars in contracts "with the implied understanding that their political posture ... would be pro-Iraqi." In other words, mass murderer Saddam was bribing his way to a political victory that would have reversed his battlefield defeat in Desert Storm.

A post-9/11 irony also encouraged Saddam's view that he was winning The Slow War: Al-Qaida used the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia as a recruiting tool for terrorists. Those troops and support facilities played a key role in maintaining the sanctions regimen. The United States was in a strategic political bind. Remain in Saudi Arabia and enforce the U.N. Security Council resolutions sanctioning Saddam, or give superficial credence to al-Qaida's global agit-prop campaign that U.S. troops threatened Mecca.

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There is much more. Bay has come back in strong form from surgery on his knees. It certainly appears that his typing fingers and brain are undaunted.

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