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.