Baghdad has carefully picked its moment to rewind to last winter's crisis: On Friday, the U.S. blocked attempts by Russia, France and China to review U.N. sanctions against Iraq. Saddam hopes to exploit that division to isolate Washington from its Gulf War allies. Russia and pro-Western Arab states will likely be even more strongly opposed to military action than they were last February, while Saddam will have drawn courage from NATO's obvious reluctance to take military action in Kosovo. The policy makers meeting in Washington will be aware that if air strikes could alter the political equation at all, it would probably be in Saddam's favor. And tough sanctions have already been in place for almost eight years. That doesn't leave President Clinton a whole lot of face cards.
Saddam Hussein has called Washington's bluff, and the U.S. hand is looking shaky. As President Clinton meets Monday with his national security team to discuss Iraq's suspension of U.N. arms inspections, Saddam clearly believes that, absent the mother of all "bimbo eruptions," the U.S. is unlikely to muster the political will and the international support necessary for military action. Which leaves Saddam, improbably, holding most of the aces.