18 SEPTEMBER 2002
Dispensing with Hollywoods foreign policy
Saddam Hussein is no hero. He has gassed the minority Kurds to death, trampled over the rights of his own people, used his elite national guard to silence critics and made a mockery of United Nations weapons inspectors.
Iraqs letter to the United Nations on Monday, declaring that it was ready to allow UN weapons inspectors enter unconditionally for the first time since 1998 is a last ditch attempt to prevent military action by the United States.
But Iraq is not a single-issue problem that can be tackled by throwing in a few bombs and sending the marines to finish off the job that was started during the Gulf War. That is stuff Hollywood movies are made of.
Years of economic sanctions against Iraq have not weakened Husseins dictatorship. On the contrary they have strengthened his hold. The sanctions have only served to impoverish the already poor Iraqi people and thus playing directly into Husseins hands.
Poverty could breed revolution but it could also make totalitarian regimes stronger by exploiting the frailties of a nation that day in day out is made to scrape the end of the barrel to survive.
But Saddam Hussein is a problem that transcends the Iraqi borders. Rogue as he may be Saddam Hussein is also part of the Arab-Muslim community that has a knack of standing up to common enemies despite the internal divisions that may exist.
Militarist talk, the type George W. Bush excels in, only serves to woo the American public. It is a good way of turning around the waning domestic support in public opinion, which Bush is experiencing, now that the economic realities of 11 September are sinking deeper.
Iraq has long been a thorny issue for the international community. But the American way of dealing with it does not take into consideration the numerous ramifications of the problems at hand.
The high-sounding American talk of military action to resolve the Iraq problem once and for all has now softened at the edges, given the lack of international support for Bushs position. Military action may be what Bush needs to boost his popularity but it certainly is not what the rest of the world needs. George Bush cannot expect the rest of the world to tow the American line just because he decides to do so. Cumbersome as it may be, international diplomacy, the such that the United States insists on using to resolve the Middle East crisis, must be given a chance.
France and Germany, the strongest opponents to American unilateral military action, may be criticised for adopting a too soft an approach in the face of tyranny. But these two countries by far represent the European sentiment that is wary of expensive wars that only bring destruction and increase hostility to the West.
In this complex scenario Malta has a role to play as well. Small as this country may be it has a valid contribution to make in this debate. Being at the crossroads of Christianity and Islam, Malta knows the dangers of military conflict so close to its shores. It can understand the bitterness of Arab countries toward the United State because of its lethargy in condemning Israels aggression against Palestinians.
The neutrality clause in Maltas constitution states that the country must work actively for peace. Translated into simple words it means that the leaders of this country have the obligation of doing something to broker peace rather than just speaking in favour of it. Yet, this country still lacks the necessary grinta on the international stage when it comes to conflicts so close to its shores. Why wait for the European Union to take a stand on the issue before publicly declaring ours?
We may not have the clout other countries have but this should not deter us from taking a pro-active approach in foreign policy. It is the least this country could do.