The Heritage Foundation

Executive Memorandum #280 on Middle East

August 30, 1990

August 30, 1990 | Executive Memorandum on Middle East

Bush To Gorbachev: Choose Between Saddam and the West

(Archived document, may contain errors)

00/90 BUSH TO GORBACHEV: CHOOSE B TWEEN SADDAM AND THE WEST Unlike most international conflicts the United States has faced since World War II, Saddam Hussein' s invasion of Kuwait is not mainly an East-West confrontation. Moscow and Washington are not squared off eyebau-to-eyeball as they were in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, or even backing opposing sides, as they were in the 1982-1983 Lebanon crisis. Even so, Mo s cow has been a major player in this most recent Mid- die-East adsis; sometimes supporting the U.S, sometimes helping Saddam, but always Pursuing its own in- terests. This more subtle Soviet game requires a different American response than previous Middle E ast conflicts. This time, George Bush must draw out Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and force him to choose sides: Saddam or the West. On the one hand, Moscow has joined 'Washington in condemning Saddam!s aggression- The day of the August 2 Iraqi hirmstio n of Kuwait, Gorbachev said he would cut off all arms deliveries to Iraq. In the United Nations on August 6, the Soviet representative voted with America in supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution imposing a trade embargo on Iraq. Again this past Sat u rday, Moscow voted with America, calling for the use of military force, if necessiiq, to enforce the U.N.4mposed embargo. On the other hand, Soviet military policy since Saddam!s invasion has been less 9 Before endorsing the use of force to back the embar g o, Soviet diplomats worked hard behindi the s to place U.S., Soviet, and other forces in the Persian Gulf under the U.N. fiag. This action would have tied U.S. hands by giving the U.N. - and therefore Moscow, which has a veto in the U.N. Security Council - a measure of control over American military operations in the region. Moscow also has been careful not to bum its bridges with Saddam. While ning the Iraqi in- vasion, Gorbachev continues to assist Saddam militarily. By Moscow's own admission, at an Augu s t 22 of- fichd press conference by Red Army Colonel Valentin Ogurtsov, 193 Soviet military advisors still are training and assisting Ws one - armed forces. Privately, Pentagon sources say that between 3,ooot7oooo Soviet military advisors still may be m Ir a q. Moscow has been silent on their whereabouts or activities. But traditionally, these advisors have played a prominent role in training the Iraqi military, helping to plan Raq's military operation% main aining such advanced Soviet-supplied weaponry as Mi G - 29 Fulcrum fighter aircraft and building Iraqs air defense network Creating A Menace. This continuing military support for Saddam. builds on Soviet policy in the region. Without Moscov/s support, Saddam could never have turned Iraq into the predominant m ilitary power m the Persian Gulf region. Moscow's military ties with Baghdad date back to 195& Mos- cow and Baghdad signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1972. Since then, the Soviet Union has: remained Iraqs largest arms supplier, helping crea t e the menace that American forces face today. (The menace also par* is the creation of Western arms suppliers, particularly France, which has supplied Iraq with advancedVYW jets and Ewcet anti-ship missiles.) Soviet fence-straddling over Iraq may be- expl ained by Moscow's interests in the current crWiL In part, Moscow pins from instability in the region.-This at least to some extent explains why it consistently has stirred up trouble b and abetting suo dictators and terrorists as Saddam, UWs Moammar Qad-

hafi, the Palestine liberation Organization'sYassir Arafat, and Syria's HafezAssad,.and why it continues to do so. War and political instability in the Middle East generally lead to higher oil prices, which have tended to work in Moscows favor. Today, for every dollar increase in the price of a barrel of crude, Mos- cow gains some $1 billion annually in badly needed hard currency from its export of oil. . But Moscow today also may have its own reasons for promoting stability in the Middle East, or at leas t appearing to do so. First, its policy of unequivocal support for t tyrants has failed to dislodge the U.S. from the region or to gain for Moscow an internationally-recognized role in the Middle East. Second, Gorbachev is in the midst of wooing Western ai d and technology to bail out his sinking economy. Furthermore, as long as conflict in the Gulf persists, Western defense spending levels - which were head- ing down fast - are likely to remain high. Gorbachev would like to set Western defense spending back on its downward slide. Charting A Middle Course. Gorbachev appears to be charting a middle course in the Iraq crisis, main- tainin his military ties to Baghdad while offering some rhetorical and diplomatic support to the West. He hopes, perhaps, to emerge as a peacemaker, his image polished in the West, and his relations with Sad- dam still intact. If he is lucky, he may gain for Moscow what it long has sought but failed to achieve through a more overtly belligerent course in the Middle East: a recognized r ole as a regional power and diplomatic arbiter to rival the Western powers. U.S. policy must be geared toward forcing Gorbachev to choose sides. If Gorbachev wants to gain stature and legitimacy, he will have to earn it through coopera- tion with the U.S. to bring stability to the region, and a clear rejection - in word and deed - of Saddam and his expansionist policies. In pursuit of this objective, Bush should: Introduce a resolution in the U.N. Security Council calling for the withdrawal of all foreign m ilitary advisors from Iraq. Moscow will be forced to comply by withdrawing its advisors or to veto the resolution. Either way, the resolution will flush out Moscow's true intentions in the region. Call publicly for Gorbachev to terminate the Soviet Union' s 1972 "Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation" with Iraq. Abrogation of this treaty would send a clear message to Saddam, and the rest of the world, that Moscow no longer has an interest in backing Iraqi aggression. * * Urge Gorbachev to share information w i th the U.S. on the strategic vulnerabilities of the weapons Moscow has sent Saddam. Some of these, such as Soviet air defense missiles and Scud B surface-to-sur- face missil@s, threaten the lives of American soldiers. H Gorbachev really wants to right the wrong his country has committed in arming Iraq, he can help the Pentagon figure out how to defeat the Soviet weaponry in the Iraqi arsenal with minimum loss of life. France already has supplied the U.S. with needed information on French weapons in Saddam' s hands. Continue to reject Soviet calls for a joint U.S.-Soviet military command in the Persian Gulf or for putting U.S. forces in the Middle East under the U.N. flag. America and its NATO allies have sent forces to the Middle East to stop aggression and d efend Western interests. Countries without interests in the region, or with opposing interests, can only hamper operations. George Bush has been establishing a personal relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev. Bush should tell thq5oviet leader. that the U.S. u nderstands that Moscow, as Washington, is in the process of crafting its post-Cold War foreign policy. Bush should say that he thus understands why Moscow's signals on Iraq may be confusing. Ile time has come, Bush then should stress, for Gorbachev to end the confusion. In this critical moment in the evolution of post-Cold War geopolitics, Bush should tell Gorbachev, Moscow must decide: Is it committed to roiling troubled waters or is it ready to work with the West in opposing aggres- sors like kaqs Saddam Hussein? Jay P. Kosminsky Deputy Director of Defense Policy Studies MichaelJohns Policy Analyst -


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