Washington, 4 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The American response to Saddam Hussein's latest act of aggression is already having profound if unintended consequences on Iraq, the Middle East and the broader international community.
In Iraq itself, the American use of cruise missiles against targets in southern Iraq and the unilateral U.S. extension of the "no fly" zone up to the suburbs of Baghdad appear to be provoking rather than chastening the Iraqi dictator.
The Iraqi government has already said that it will ignore not only the old "no fly" zones but the new one as well and that its air force has been ordered to shoot down any outside intruder. Moreover, and despite Baghdad's claims to the contrary, there is little evidence that the Iraqis have pulled back from their punitive expedition against those Kurdish groups in the north which enjoy Iranian support.
Consequently, unless all this is simply an Iraqi bluff, it sets the stage for a broader confrontation, one the United States may find it hard to avoid, to back away from, or to generate international support for any further moves against Iraq.
In the first instance, these consequences are to be seen in the Middle East. Few countries in that region have shown any enthusiasm for the latest American move, a pattern that may further slow the Arab-Israeli peace process.
But there is an even more important implication of the American action that is likely to be on the minds of many Muslim statesmen. The United States attacked southern Iraq rather than northern Iraq where Baghdad's aggression is taking place.
For the cynical, such a pattern suggests that the United States was more interested in symbolically punishing the Iraqis than in preventing them from moving against Kurds who have Iranian support. And that may suggest to the same people that the United States is pursuing its own anti-Iranian policy for domestic or other reasons rather than seeking to rein in the still very dangerous Saddam Hussein.
Such conclusions will likely gain additional currency because of the cracks the latest American actions reveal in the U.N. coalition that U.S. President George Bush assembled to reverse the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990-91.
Except for Britain, virtually all the participants of that effort have spoken out against the latest American action or at a minimum expressed concerns about what some have called American unilateralism. And some, such as Russia and Japan, who want to see Iraqi oil flow again into the world market, have been albeit in diplomatic language openly contemptuous of Washington's action.
Such anger will likely reduce the willingness of these countries to follow the American lead on a whole range of other questions and thus further complicate international relations in the post-Cold War environment.
Given this diplomatic and political fallout, why did Washington act as it did? There is an obvious and defensible reason -- even if the ultimate consequences of this action are not what anyone would want. And that is an American commitment to fighting terrorism -- by Saddam Hussein against the Iraqi people and by Iran beyond its borders.
The problems generated by the latest American action provide additional evidence of just how difficult that fight is; they do nothing to undercut its value or importance for the entire world.