Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Thursday, December 25, 2003

Impact of Saddam's capture uncertain

The capture of Saddam Hussein is headline news throughout the world, but not unanticipated. The world is now concentrated on the future direction of the United States, and what comes next in a post-Saddam era.


The capture of Saddam Hussein is headline news throughout the world, but not unanticipated. The world is now concentrated on the future direction of the United States, and what comes next in a post-Saddam era.

Under the administration of George W. Bush, US foreign policy has shown a strong tendency toward unilateral action with the war in Iraq serving as a prime example.

The US military and its allies entered Iraq in March without explicit authorization from the United Nations, choosing to ignore the expressed opposition of France, Russia, and China, three of the five permanent members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council. This strong unilateralist foreign policy has brought about concerns in the international community.

On the flip side, Washington has also demonstrated a willingness to follow a multilateral approach when pursuing other issues. The best example is the nuclear crisis in the Korean Peninsula.

There was a six-party negotiation hosted in Beijing in August 2003 that included the United States, China, Russia, Japan, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea. One may wonder, what can the impact of the capture of Saddam Hussein be on US foreign policy, particularly in relation to unilateralism vs. multilateralism?

The capture of Saddam and the US victory in Iraq may influence policy in either direction.

On the one hand it will certainly enhance the US hegemonic position in contemporary world affairs. At the same time, despite the enormous superiority of US military might, the war in Iraq has revealed potential weaknesses.

To achieve military victory and to occupy Iraq with relatively few casualties and in a short period was an impressive feat, but with continuous terrorist attacks on US and ally personnel over the past months, the consolidation of victory and peaceful transfer of power are proving to be more challenging and daunting tasks.

As a matter of fact, one of the dissident opinions to the war within the United States is the question of whether it will become a protracted affair with seemingly insurmountable obstacles and intricacies much like those encountered during the Viet Nam War.

In addition, the world may expect to see a prolonged period of unstable development throughout the Middle East.

This has enhanced the forces within the American foreign policy apparatus who believe a multilateral approach can better serve US interests.

Despite the fact that the United States has obtained support from some of its allies, it failed to obtain support from other major powers or explicit authorization from the UN. Calls to correct this tendency and rely more on multilateralism may be strengthened by the experience in Iraq.

The development of a post-Saddam world will also have enormous impact on US domestic politics, which may in turn contribute to the future direction of US foreign policy.

Will the capture of Saddam enhance Bush's position for re-election? It's too early to tell. In the short run, it may boost the Bush administration's profile, but opposition to the Iraq War, particularly among some leading democratic politicians, remains unchanged.

Furthermore, criticism of Bush's unilateralist foreign policy has remained strong.

One other crucial factor is the economy. After all, Bush's father, George Bush Sr, had the disquieting fortune of winning the Gulf War and losing the election of 1992. The younger Bush is keenly aware of this and perhaps will switch his attention to the economic front as the presidential election approaches in the next few months.

The capture of Saddam may not necessarily change the existing world opinion (in support or opposition) toward the US war in Iraq.

Prior to US military action in Iraq earlier this year, there were countries such as France, Germany and Russia that expressed great reservation over this action. Although each of them has made some policy modifications toward the issue following the US victory, there has been no major switch of position.

The author is professor and division director of Comparative and Regional Studies and director of Centre for Asian Studies at American University in Washington DC.

Source: China Daily

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