Not since the U.S. and Britain bombed Iraqi military targets after Saddam
expelled UN weapons inspectors in 1998 has the Security Council been called upon
to enforce its own resolutions. It's reported that Bush's speechwriters even added
mollifying words after being shown the advance text of Secretary General Kofi Annan's
address stressing the moral and political necessity of multilateral cooperation.
Junior did exactly what Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass), a likely candidate for
Democratic nomination, had urged in a toughly-worded New York Times column.
"We are at a strange moment in history," Kerry wrote "when an American administration
has to be persuaded of the virtue of utilizing the procedures of international law and
community—institutions American presidents from across the ideological spectrum
have insisted on as essential to global security."
For once, Bush acted like a grownup. Overnight, international opinion shifted
dramatically in the administration's favor. Besides the ballyhooed "weapons of mass
destruction," Bush enumerated the Iraqi tyrant's offenses against U.N. resolutions dating
from the Gulf War—the torture and repression of ethnic and religious minorities, hiding
prisoners and stolen property, oil-smuggling in defiance of U.N. sanctions, and failure
to pay reparations.
Confronted with a U.S. president who portrayed Saddam as an international
instead of threatening to act like one, the Security Council appears willing to confront
Iraq's transgressions. Even the French, Russians and Chinese seem likely to go along.
Once again, Democrats hoping Secretary of State Colin Powell will resign in protest
are left to commend his steadfast service.
No sooner had Junior returned to Washington, however, than he
reverted to partisan form, sneeringly demanding that congressional Democrats
write him a blank check before the November elections to attack Iraq or be
branded appeasers. "If I were running for office," Bush said "I'm not sure
how I'd explain to the American people—say, vote for me, and, oh, by the
way, on a matter of national security, I think I'm going to wait for
somebody else to act." Somebody else, in this instance, being the same U.N.
Security Council whose help Bush had just earnestly solicited.
The administration's need to distract voters from its disastrous economic
its Social Security nostrums GOP candidates are fleeing, and its coziness with
corporate criminals is obvious.
Democrats, however, needn't whine about Bush "politicizing" foreign policy.
Americans are paying attention; they will heed a serious argument. Sen. Kerry pointed
out that "[s]ome in the administration actually seem to fear that...an ultimatum might
frighten Saddam Hussein into cooperating."
Iraq's seeming capitulation may indeed prove a stalling tactic.
Reverse centuries of American tradition, however, in an unprovoked attack to
bring about "regimechange?" What's the big hurry? Iraq poses no immediate
threat to U.S.security. Even the Iraqi army's loyalty to Saddam is
questionable. Iraq has no navy. British and American warplanes operate over
Baghdad with impunity.
In their 1998 book "A World Transformed," George H.W. Bush and
Brent Scowcroft, explained that "[t]rying to eliminate Saddam [during the
Gulf War] would have incurred incalculable human and political costs....We
would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The
coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger
and other allies pulling out as well....Going in and occupying Iraq, thus
unilaterally exceeding the U.N.'s mandate, would have destroyed the
precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had
we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying
power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically
different-and perhaps barren-outcome."
War should be the last option, not the first. Congress should
offer Junior exactly what he says he wants: unequivocal support for actions
the U.N. Security Council deems necessary. Nothing more. Let's see if he has
sufficient wisdom to accept what could be a major diplomatic triumph at the
possible expense of a short-term political advantage.