March 2-8, 2001
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Panel considers fate of the individual in the face of technological media

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Mel Ang
Ambassador W. Nathaniel Howell speaks through the American Embassy gate to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who visited not long after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. While the embassy was under siege, Howell maintained the U.S. position in defiance of Saddam Husseinıs military action and wrote about it in this book.

Kuwait conference reviews history, aftermath

By Charlotte Crystal

Shafeeq Ghabra recalled the morning, 10 years ago last summer, that he and his wife, Taghreed Al-Qudsi-Ghabra, awakened to the sound of artillery firing near their Kuwait City home.

"We argued about it," Ghabra said. "I told her the firing was at the border [with Iraq], but she said, 'No, it's too close.' She was right." Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait had begun.

Ghabra and Al-Qudsi-Ghabra were among the speakers at a conference on "The Liberation of Kuwait: Dawning of a New World Order," sponsored by U.Va.'s Institute for Global Policy Research and held in Old Cabell Hall Feb. 22-24. The purpose of the conference, organized by Ambassador W. Nathaniel Howell, who now directs the institute, was to review the events leading to the Persian Gulf War and to draw lessons in crisis management that could be applied to future conflicts.

Howell was the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait at the outset of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War.

Despite a late winter snowstorm Feb. 22, a group of U.Va. students huddled in parkas on the Lawn, across from the entrance to Old Cabell Hall, protesting the cost to Iraqi civilians of the post-war economic sanctions imposed on Iraq by the United Nations. Over the next two days, more than half a dozen protesters mounted the stage inside the hall and were arrested by University police for trespassing after refusing to step down.

What is at stake in this tiny country on the eastern shore of the Arabian peninsula, a country consisting mostly of flat desert, slightly larger than Connecticut, with a population of about 2.3 million?

Several things, according to Gen. Tommy Franks, a conference panelist and commander-in-chief of the U.S. Department of Defense's Central Command, which covers the Middle East. He participated on the panel, "Maintaining International Peace and Security: The Gulf as Regional Model?"

U.S. forces offer a stabilizing military presence that supports allied countries and keeps open maritime shipping lanes, including the outlet of the Red Sea between Yemen and the Horn of Africa, the gulfs of Aqaba and Suez, and the Strait of Hormuz, Franks said. U.S. interests lie in securing the export of crude oil — 92 billion barrels of which are estimated to lie under Kuwait's desert sands from the region and making possible the import of billions of dollars' worth of U.S. goods. The U.S. military also is concerned about the security of 200,000 Americans living in the region and supports regional humanitarian initiatives of the U.S. government.

Over the past 10 years, the U.S. military has worked with defense forces in Kuwait and elsewhere in the region to improve their readiness through better training and equipment.

"Containment has worked," Franks said, referring to the ongoing efforts of U.S., British, Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti military forces to restrict Iraq's military movements, both inside and outside Iraq. "Since the [Persian Gulf] War, Saddam has not killed Kurds in the north. He has not killed Shi'ites in the south. He has not effectively threatened Kuwait to the south."

Fellow panelist William Quandt, the Edward R. Stettinius Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs and U.Va.'s vice provost for international affairs, agreed that the policy of military containment has been effective in restricting Saddam Hussein's ability to threaten other countries in the region. But he noted that the policy has not been fully successful in achieving all its aims.

"Saddam Hussein is still in power," Quandt said. "There is no prospect for stability in the region without the U.S. military. And U.N. [economic] sanctions have not weakened Saddam Hussein."

Moreover, because there are no longer any U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq, it is impossible to determine the status of Saddam Hussein's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, Quandt said.

In view of the ineffectual nature of economic sanctions, the extent of illegal sales of Iraqi oil, and the high humanitarian cost paid by Iraqi civilians, Quandt believes a more effective approach is in order.

"The sanctions should be modified," Quandt said. "We should keep sanctions on explicit military sales to Iraq," but general economic sanctions, because they are difficult to enforce and have not proven to be effective in changing Saddam Hussein's behavior, should be reviewed, he believes.

"The U.S. should consider changing its sanctions policy, which hurts civilians more than Saddam," Quandt said. Instead, the U.S. should reshape its policy "to focus on military containment and deterrence."

At the same time, Quandt, a former member of the National Security Council and Middle East expert who was actively involved in the Camp David Accords under the leadership of President Jimmy Carter, suggested that the U.S. should continue its efforts to strengthen and maintain diplomatic relations with other countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Iran and Kuwait.


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