The Iraqi Albatross
U.S. foreign policy was dominated in 1998 by continued difficulties with Iraq. On November 13, 1997, Iraq expelled the American members of the U.N. inspection team mandated to determine whether Iraq had destroyed its nuclear, biological, and ballistic weapons. Under the 1991 Gulf War cease-fire resolution, the U.N. had agreed not to lift sanctions until Iraq's full compliance had been verified.
As the inspection standoff stretched over months, the U.S. began a military build-up in the Gulf. In February 1998 U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan brokered a peaceful solution, but over the next months, Baghdad continued to impede inspections, finally putting a complete halt to them in August 1998. A number of countries condemned the U.S.'s inflexibility on sanctions, which they saw as responsible for the appalling humanitarian crisis in Iraq. The United States, however, faulted President Saddam Hussein for his own people's misery — he had only to comply with the U.N. agreement to end their suffering.
Although repeatedly frustrated with the U.N.'s seemingly oversolicitous attitude toward Iraq, after the August standoff the U.S. opted for diplomatic arm-twisting instead of a military solution. In September the U.N. Security Council unanimously affirmed that there would be no talk of lifting sanctions without U.N. inspections. Yet the brief solidarity the U.S. felt with the U.N. faded when no progress occurred and Hussein resumed his defiant shell game.
On October 31 the United States and Britain threatened Iraq with the possibility of a military strike if it did not begin cooperating. On November 14 Iraq agreed to unconditional cooperation with the U.N. inspectors, and the United States and Britain called off planned military action. But on December 15, chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler reported that Iraq had not lived up to its promise to cooperate. The following day the United States and Britain began four days of air strikes, which ended on December 19, the day before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan began. The attacks focused on command centers, missile factories, and airfields — targets that the Pentagon believed would damage Iraq's weapons stores.