King Hussein, R.I.P.
Jude Wanniski & Peter Signorelli
February 10, 1999

 

Memo To: Kofi Annan, UN General Secretary
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Vacuum Left by the King

The following is a short memoriam written by my colleague at Polyconomics, Peter Signorelli, who is our resident specialist on Middle East matters. As you will see, it is a bit different than most of what has been appearing in eulogies for King Hussein upon his early death. The numbers of true peacemakers are diminished by the king's death which makes more important the role of those few who remain. By your record, you have chosen that course. Finding a way to keep open the door to reconciliation by Iraq and its regional neighbors is the best way to prevent the new regional vacuum from being filled with instability, war, and destruction. The western media are wrong to assert that King Hussein had become an implacable foe of Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Yes, he was harsh in his criticisms of the Iraqi ruler, but he made every effort to find a way to peacefully bring Saddam back into the family fold and away from the precipice. You now inherit that task, Mr. Secretary General.

* * * *

We rejoice over a birth and mourn over a death. But we should not. For when a man is born, who knows what he will do or how he will end? But when a man dies, we may rejoice if he left a good name and this world in peace. From the Midrash

Hussein ibn Talal al-Hashem, King of Jordan, was a remarkably singular promoter of peace and stability in a region that has rarely experienced such an existence. King Hussein measured up to the tests that came his way in events not of his making or choosing, always seeking the road that might best ensure stability for the region. Yet this approach was more than just noble intentions. It flowed from the King's intrinsic commitment to peaceful resolution of conflicts more specifically from his sense of the good shepherd or of the prodigal son's father. Intrinsic to his statesmanship was the fact that King Hussein always left the door open for reconciliation.

Most media accounts cite his tireless efforts to promote peace with Israel, a commitment so intense for him that he arose from his bed at Minnesota's Mayo Clinic to help advance Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements. What is less referred to, or simply dismissed as the King's cowering before a powerful neighbor his defense of Iraqi grievances -- gets less notice. When the coalition in favor of war against Iraq was being assembled, the King, almost alone, was working tirelessly to find a negotiated peaceful resolution to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait among the regional parties. He stood up against the rulers in the entire region and against the U.S. and its European allies. When Desert Storm got underway he condemned it, bitter that his efforts for peaceful options had not been supported by other Arab regimes, or by the West. King Hussein and his country paid a terrible price, as the Saudis severely punished the kingdom economically, and the U.S. diplomatically isolated Jordan. But he was never one to depart from principles in the face of adversity. King Hussein saw in Iraq the potential of a prodigal son who could return home. The King always believed in leaving the door open.

In 1996, when Jordan was forced to adopt IMF conditionalities price hikes, austerity, currency debasement the kingdom was threatened by widespread and alarming riots. King Hussein responded with military force and suspension of the national legislature to quell the unrest. But shortly after the crackdown, he was ordering the release of prisoners, was touring the country to listen to people, and sought to reconcile with his opponents. Such statesmanship is unique in the Middle East, and much of the rest of the world as well. The spokesmen for reconciliation are too few and far between. His death is a terrible loss as we enter the new millennium.

Peter Signorelli