Triumph Without Victory, the title of a forthcoming book, sums up the way most Americans now feel about Desert Storm. Why, they ask, did tens of thousands of Iraqis lose their lives only to see Saddam Husayn still in power one year later? How could we destroy a country's infrastructure yet allow the repression and aggression to continue? What is the point of military victory if this is the reward?
Actually, the fighting achieved a great deal, both for Americans and for Middle Easterners. The passage of time makes it increasingly clear that the use of force was a correct decision. It put a stop to the Iraq military and economic threat, created a model for dealing with rogue states, increased American influence, and shook up Saddam's regime.
More specifically, the war brought two kinds of benefits, negative and positive. Negative benefits involve several fearsome prospects that did not take place. These include:
An end to Saddam's atrocities in Kuwait. We tend to forget the criminal nature of the occupation of Kuwait, but Iraqis routinely used torture, theft, and murder as part of their campaign to push Kuwaitis out of their country and obliterate the very existence of the Kuwaiti nationality.
An end to Saddam's military threat. Before January 16, 1991, the Iraqi arsenal menaced the Persian Gulf region and much of the Middle East. We now know that Iraqi scientists had chemical weapon capabilities, had assembled a supergun, and had long-range missiles. They were close to attaining nuclear capabilities; without the war, Saddam would soon have had nuclear weapons. His reputation for ruthlessness and recklessness would have prompted the world to appease him. Iraqi hegemony over the Persian Gulf region was in the cards.
The allies targeted the Iraqi arsenal, destroying most of it. And United Nations inspection teams are systematically taking care of what was missed.
An end to Saddam's economic threat. Saddam's military power would surely have allowed him to intimidate the whole of the Persian Gulf, one of the most critical pieces of real estate in the world. Iraq contains 10 percent of world petroleum reserves; Kuwait another 10 percent; Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and the rest of the region add up to another 30 percent. In other words, Saddam would have been in a position to obstruct the supplies of the world's most vital commodity and thus manipulate the price. This would have given him immense leverage over the global economy. Instead of the price of oil being $18 a barrel and falling, it would likely be $50 a barrel and rising; the consequences to the world economy, especially to the world's poorest countries and to the struggling democracies of the ex-Soviet bloc, is almost incalculable.
But the benefits are not limited to disasters averted. Positive consequences of the war include:
A precedent for rogue states. The United Nations has imposed an unprecedented regime on Iraq. For ten months, inspectors have had free run in Iraq, going wherever they please, nosing through papers, destroying armaments, identifying international suppliers of the instruments of death. Remarkably, these intrusions take place virtually without international opposition. They are quietly creating an important model for future dealings with aggressive dictators.
Heightened American influence. Saudis, Kuwaitis, and other Gulf Cooperation Council producers for the first time are coordinating their oil production and pricing policies with the West. And old enemies are newly respectful; for example, Hafiz al-Asad of Syria is now eager to work with Washington, joining in the peace process with Israel and helping in the release of American hostages in Lebanon.
A less dangerous Middle East. Not since 1945 has conflagration in the Middle East been less likely. Desert Storm made both Iraq and Iran newly respectful of American force. The victory also gave American diplomats the opportunity to get Arabs and Israelis to the negotiating table.
A shaken Iraqi regime. Defeat in battle did not topple Saddam, but it did significantly weaken his hold on Iraq, making it thin and brittle. Shi'ite and Kurdish uprisings, crushed last spring, will resume when the opportunity arises. Fear so stalks the tyrant's palace, the ruling family is sharply divided against itself. Repeated reports of bloody purges suggest dissension in the Ba'th Party and the military ranks. It may take time, but Desert Storm is likely to lead to Saddam's eventual overthrow.
Whatever mistakes the Bush Administration made after the fighting stopped-especially the thoughtless incitement to Iraqi citizens to rebel-had nothing to do with what came before.
As for Saddam's continued rule, it is obnoxious, but it was never a U.S. goal to get rid of him or to repair the damage of Ba'thist rule to Iraq. American and allied forces saved Kuwait and destroyed the Iraqi unconventional arsenal. It is now up to the Iraqis themselves to dispose of Saddam Husayn and his evil clique.