Welcome reminder for the bully of Baghdad
THE Allied air strike on Iraq, described as a ''spanking, not a beating'' by one US official, is not, at this stage, likely to spark a renewal of a similar level of hostilities to those that began two years ago. It was not a declaration of war, just a well-timed reminder to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein that the world will not let him get away with flaunting his defiance. It will also give ammunition to those who argue that the Gulf War should have continued until Saddam had fallen.
Iraq's violations of the United Nations-imposed cease-fire arrangements, and this week's incursions into Kuwait, are grave enough to warrant the short, sharp shock delivered on Wednesday night. However, they will not unite the Arab world against him in military coalition with the West. Saddam's recent posturing has angered and undermined the authority of the UN, but it has set off none of the shockwaves created by Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait in August 1990.
Neither Iraq's Arab neighbours nor the rest of the developing world are disposed towards full-scale international action. Yesterday China, a key player because of its Security Council role, has expressed deep regret and called for a peaceful resolution to the Gulf dispute.
An unexpected side-effect of the bombing of Iraq was the bullish reaction of the markets. In sharp contrast to the heavy falls at the start of the Gulf War, Asian indexes rose on the news of the attack, indicating that there is no expectation of bigger trouble to come. The phenomenon may also reflect the fact that international policing operations have become more commonplace.
The Allied action is to be welcomed because it helps restore the credibility of the forces lined up against Iraq's evil aggression, and shows Saddam he cannot defy the international community with impunity. Without the threat of all-out war behind it, however, it will not send Saddam scuttling off with his tail between his legs forever.