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WAR Cont.

Harvey Sicherman, Ph.D is President of the Foreign Policy Research  Institute   and  a   former  aide  to  three  U.S. secretaries of  state.   His most recent book is America the Vulnerable: Our  Military Problems  and How To Fix Them, co-edited with  John Lehman.


Now it  was Turkey's  turn to  embarrass.  On March 2nd, the Parliament  narrowly  failed  to  ratify  the  agreement  to accommodate American  troops despite the Cabinet's approval. While the  tally reflected  popular opposition  to war,  the mechanics  seemed   the  product   of  incompetence   by  an inexperienced Justice  and Development  party.   Its leader, Recep  Tayyip   Erdogan,  promised   to  revisit  the  issue successfully once  he was  elected Prime  Minister.   As the Turkish Chief  of Staff  General Himi  Ozkok explained,  his country's choice  was "between  bad and  worse."   Unable to prevent war, said Ozkok, Turkey could protect itself against the worst  by taking the American deal.  But it might be too late.

DIPLOMATIC ENDGAME Blix's and  ElBaradei's second report did contain a "smoking gun," the  discovery that  Iraq's al-Samoud  II missile flew further than allowed.  On the face of it, the Samoud offered a stunning  refutation for  the  proponents  of  containment rather than war:  despite sanctions, the Iraqis had imported the engines,  fuel and  other parts  to develop the missile. Blix, smarting  under Powell's  briefing that the inspectors had been  fooled, demanded  Iraq destroy  the missiles.   On March 1st,  the Iraqis  began to do so.  Three days ahead of time, Blix submitted his third report, reminding the Council that very  little disarmament had actually occurred although the Iraqis  were now  offering  things  that  Blix  publicly wondered why  they had  not submitted  before.  Blix himself became the  object of  public wonder when in his next report on March  7th, he  omitted the  discovery of  another  Iraqi weapons system-drones-that also violated restrictions.

The  real  drama,  however,  had  shifted  to  a  diplomatic showdown.   At Blair's  behest, Bush  agreed to submit a new resolution on  February 26,  2003, a  move the  White  House believed unnecessary  and that  left the  coalition for  war open to yet another delay that might still end in veto.  The text was  simple, stating  that Iraq  remained in breach and that Saddam  had lost  his  last  chance  to  fulfill  1441. Severe consequences would follow.  As no one could deny that Saddam remained  in breach  eighty-one days  after 1441  had been issued,  the resolution was the equivalent of reminding everyone that the earth was round.  But the flat earth party spoke up immediately.

When tabled  on February  26th,  the  Anglo-American-Spanish resolution was  offset by a Franco-German "memorandum."  The French and their allies argued against a resolution for war. Instead, the  inspectors should  be  charged  to  develop  a series of deadlines for the numerous unsettled issues raised by Iraq's original declaration almost three months earlier.

This  was   followed  on  March  5th  by  another  shock  to Washington when  Russia  joined  France  and  Germany  in  a statement  that   commended  the  inspectors'  progress  and threatened a  veto  of  the  American-sponsored  resolution. Bush cherished  his relationship  with Putin.   It had borne important results  after 9/11,  when Russia hastened to take the American  side, not  objecting to  U.S.  forces  in  its former Central  Asian dominions.    In  return,  the  United States had  gone easy  on Russia's war in Chechnya, although Moscow apparently  expected other  tangible  rewards.    The White House  anticipated that  Putin, assured  of a  role in post-Saddam Iraq,  would come  along.  Putin had hinted that Powell's U.N.  briefing might  justify a change in America's favor.   He had  before him  Gorbachev's  unsuccessful  1991 intervention to  prevent the Gulf War and subsequent loss of influence and  prestige.   Yet he  took the  French side  to White House  dismay.   A temptation to solidify the split in NATO, a long-sought Soviet and Russian objective, may simply have been irresistible to the former KGB man.

Bush, however,  did not seem fazed by the Turkish or Russian surprises, still  less  by  the  very  large  demonstrations organized by  the anti-globalist  internationale.   Like his father, George  W. was  also the  target of  earnest appeals from the  clergy, including  the Pope.  Their arguments were discounted by the value of their previous advice against war in 1991,  which, if  it had been taken, might have given the world a  memory of Kuwait and the reality of a nuclear-armed Saddam.

On February 26th, Saddam himself challenged Bush to a verbal duel in  the course  of an  interview with  CBS  anchor  Dan Rather.   Bush's response  to this  oddity was to speak of a post-Saddam Middle  East, which  could open  the  way  to  a democratic Iraq  and a  peaceful  Palestine.    Intended  to assure the  Arabs that  America meant no imperialism in Iraq but did  mean to end the Israeli-Palestinian warfare, Bush's vision probably had a different effect.  Bush now threatened to bring  upon the  Middle East its first wholesale remaking since the departure of the British and French empires.

On March 6, 2003, the President gave a markedly subdued news conference.   Serenely confident in the greatest test of his presidency, he  surveyed the  wreckage of  his diplomacy and observed calmly  that he would proceed in America's interest as he saw fit regardless of U.N. approval.  But, he said, he also wanted  a vote in the Security Council.  It was time to take a stand even if it meant a French veto.

Returning to  the Security  Council ran contrary to American interpretations of  1441 and  signaled only Bush's desire to help Tony  Blair, the  main allied  victim of the French-led diplomatic fiasco  at the U.N.   Unlike Germany's Schroeder, Blair had  taken the U.S. side even at great political risk; Blair's "New  Labour,"  like  Schroder's  SPD,  contained  a strong anti-American  wing.   This final  effort to  put the Council "on  record" broke  up in  confusion as  the British tried to  take  the  "work  program"  of  the  Franco-German memorandum but tie it to a short deadline.  Unable to secure a majority  for an exercise that seemed foredoomed by French veto threats,  the  United  States  and  its  allies  simply abandoned the Security Council after a dramatic consultation in the Azores on March 16th.

FINAL ARGUMENTS On the  eve of  war, the main arguments broke down this way. The  Americans,   fielding  decisive   military  power,  had determined that,  as part  of the war on terrorism, Saddam's Iraq had to be disarmed before it metastasized into a larger threat through  its weapons of mass destruction.  This would complete what the U.N. (and the United States) had failed to do over  the past decade, despite numerous resolutions.  The price to  be paid  was the overthrow of the regime which, if done swiftly  and with  few casualties, might redound to the benefit of  the rest  of the  region but  would  burden  the United  States   (and  others)   with   the   highly   risky rehabilitation of  the Iraqi  state.   The  alternative,  in Washington's view,  was a  Saddam fully  armed with  various weapons of  mass destruction,  the ambition  to dominate the region, and  perhaps even the ability to threaten the United States directly.

The opposition  to war  agreed that Saddam was "mad, bad and dangerous" but  contested the  magnitude and  urgency of the danger.   They argued  that military action would recklessly endanger peace  throughout a region already boiling over the Palestinian issue.   Force  against Iraq  might not  even be needed if  the threat  of it could be parlayed into a system of inspection,  containment and deterrence.  Yet even France agreed  that   the  threat  depended  upon  an  overwhelming American military  presence remaining  in the  desert  until either the inspectors or Saddam gave up.

This was  the weak  point in  the opposition  case.   In the absence of  American forces prepared not simply to bomb Iraq
(Clinton's method)  but to overthrow the regime, there would be no inspections.  Even the sole superpower, however, could not keep  the bulk of its armed forces crowded into the Gulf awaiting the  outcome of  a new  cat and mouse game.  And no state  could   allow  its  decisive  military  power  to  be controlled by  others, such  as France,  without such power, much  less   international  civil   servants  terrified   of triggering a  war.   Time, and  the U.N.'s record of wasting time with Saddam, thus told heavily against the critics.  In the end,  a swift  and successful  American military  effort that seized arsenals of mass destruction embarrassing to the U.N. inspectors  and U.S.  opponents alike would settle much of the  fight on  American terms.  Equally, a bungled effort would strengthen Washington's critics.

A NEW BALANCE OF POWER? There was another issue.  Chirac revealed his larger purpose in an  interview intended  for the  American public:    "Any community with only one dominant power is always a dangerous one and provokes reactions" (Time, February 24, 2003).  This observation  suggested  that,  independently  of  the  Iraqi crisis, American  domination of  the  current  international order was  dangerous by definition; hence France was opposed to it.

Was  there  a  new  balance  of  power  at  hand?    Indeed, historians might  find  the  newly  anointed  Franco-German- Russian  alliance   against  the   United  States   on  Iraq unprecedented;  political   scientists  might   find  it   a confirmation of  theories about  balance and counterbalance; yet practical men might wonder about the extent of the fuss. Unlike much  of the  20th century  or the 19th, the unity of these three powers hardly offset U.S. strength.  The French, Germans and Russians were shrinking military powers by their own choice.   Moreover,  neither Chirac  nor  Schroeder  nor Putin, least of all George Bush, intended to harm each other with economic  sanctions or  military actions.  None of them proposed to  suspend cooperation in the war against al-Qaeda and international  terrorism.   Thus, at  the  end  of  this diplomatic argument lay neither an emasculated America nor a newly empowered Europe.  Relative strengths will remain much the same  as before  unless the American military expedition meets catastrophe.

Still, there  will be  important  consequences  for  Franco- American relations  and the  U.N. Security  Council  itself. Both the United States and France have been wounded.  France has denied  the United  States, inventor  of the  U.N.,  the international approval  it sought.   The United States wants nothing more  to do with a French government making its mark by opposing  Washington.   France condemns  the arrogance of American  power;   the  Americans   condemn  France's  sheer arrogance.   This nasty  virility contest  has now gone well beyond  the   anti-Americanism  fashionable  abroad  or  the American disdain  for those  unable or  unwilling to  tackle Saddam.   Chirac may very well discover that he has not only injured France's commercial opportunities in the post-Saddam era but  devalued the  forum where  France matters most, the U.N. Security  Council.   American reluctance  to  have  any further dealings  with the  French may  lead  Washington  to avoid the  Security Council  itself as  a place  to do  much business.

Here lies the most important international change.  In 1990, the war  to free  Kuwait of Saddam united a Security Council newly emancipated  from Cold  War divisions.   A  decade  of failure to  enforce disarmament, however, has now culminated in a  renewed paralysis.  The war to free Iraq and the world of Saddam's  weapons will  be conducted  by  what  Churchill called in 1946, the "sinews of strength," an Anglo-American- led coalition.   The future of an international order run by the democracies now depends on its success.