January 28, 2003
Blix, head of the UN inspection team, has delivered a somewhat ambivalent
report on Iraqi compliance with the UN inspection regime. There
is undoubtedly enough there to satisfy many elements within the
Bush administration, and perhaps the president himself, that Saddam
Hussein has once again shown himself nasty enough to deserve a military
attack from the United States. With the State of the Union Show
due for this evening, we could get a somewhat larger insight into
the president’s thinking – or, if real thinking doesn’t seem to
be part of his modus operandi, an insight into what his most
recent plans are.
Most Americans, even those who have doubts about the
idea or oppose it vehemently, seem inured to the idea that there
is going to be an attack on Iraq. Both President Bush and his press
spokesman, Ari Fleischer, keep repeating that time and American
patience are running out. U.S. troops, materiel, and support personnel
have been moving into the region in increasing numbers. The military
has been inviting various organs of the media to observe training
and war-games in the Kuwaiti desert. It has been fascinating to
watch Beltway denizens like Fred Barnes and Morton Kondracke talk
about the inevitable war as if it were a foregone conclusion, and
somewhere on a par with tax cut proposals and chatter about health
insurance in terms of significance.
Everything seems to be in place – except for a good
reason for the United States to attack a third-rate regional power
that poses no particular threat to the sole superpower except that
of a self-inflicted irritant.
the time this sees print I expect that media analysts and their
self-styled hired experts will have pored over the highlights of
the Blix report in search of a smoking gun of the sort that would
trigger an American invasion. Will the criticism of Iraqi non-cooperation
outweigh the apparent fact that the UN team has so far not found
credible evidence of caches of weapons of mass destruction – and
recommends, like almost every government agency, panel, board or
advisory committee ever formed, that it needs more time and more
money to continue its important work?
For some it’s pretty easy. Paul Wolfowitz and his
crowd have wanted to attack Iraq since the early 1990s, and have
not been shy about saying so. They apparently believe that the mere
existence of a regime that has not acted as if it lost the 1991
Gulf War is effrontery enough to spur the sole superpower into action.
they really believe, as some of the more rosy-picture neocons do,
that it can be done quickly and will spark a democratic revolt that
will in turn spark democratic reform throughout the Muslim world
and bolster American power and influence over the next several years,
is difficult to tell. It can be easy to concoct rosy scenarios when
you don’t know much about the area, and the incuriosity of most
of the war hawks about the history, current situation and genuine
prospects on the ground in Iraq and the Middle East should have
become legendary by now. But they were itching to attack Saddam
Hussein long before the 9/11 terrorist attacks provided an opportunity
to increase the possibility of bringing their hegemonic dreams to
But until 9/11, the neocons were simply a noisy minority
in the United States – a noisy minority with people ensconced in
government positions of real influence, to be sure, but still a
group that was unlikely to have its wish to oust Saddam fulfilled.
attack still didn’t provide the kind of convincing rationale for
attacking Iraq that the hawks might have desired.
Saddam’s Ba’athist regime is ostensibly and for the
most part actually an explicitly secular regime (although Saddam
invokes Allah about every third word when he’s trying to stir up
the Iraqi people to support him) rather than a friend of the kind
of militant fundamentalist brand of Islam that seems to motivate
al Qaida and other non-state terrorist groups. The CIA and Israeli
intelligence burned the midnight oil trying to find a connection
between the 9/11 hijackers and Saddam’s regime, but except for a
possible meeting in Prague have come up empty. In fact, the CIA
has several times said that Saddam hasn’t had much to do with outright
terrorists of the al Qaida stripe for the past dozen years or so.
There is the matter of Saddam providing payoffs to
some families of Palestinian militants from Al Aqsa, Islamic Jihad
and other outfits who carry out suicide/homicide bombings against
Israelis. That is a link to terrorists of a sort. But they are terrorists
who, for various reasons, some of them quite understandable in light
of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the United States has
chosen not to go after except rhetorically so far. And there’s the
complication that Saudi Arabia and Syria have provided similar kinds
of subsidies. If paying bounties to Palestinian bombers is enough
to spark an attack, why does the United States not want to attack
them? Better not to raise the question.
most aggressive of the hawks deplored the administration’s decision
to go to the United Nations to seek another resolution most observers
believe Saddam Hussein will eventually violate from the get-go.
It delayed the onset of a war, and it weakened the rationale for
a go-it-alone policy if that was deemed desirable. And it allowed
unpleasant and undesirable people like the French, the Germans and
the Russians to have a pretense of a say on the eventual decision.
Why should we pretend to care what those "old Europe"
But for those who want a war eventually but also want
the cover of a semblance of a coalition, the U.N. route has offered
a number of advantages. Any resistance, or even hesitation, by Saddam
or any of his minions, can be spun as a breach of the resolution.
And since the resolution, like most political documents, is susceptible
of numerous interpretations, surely there will be something that
emerges from the inspection regime that can be viewed by enough
people as a smoking gun to have cover for a war.
what the resolution requires is vague enough in people's minds that
a President Bush can look sufficiently leaderly while saying that
it’s clear on the basis of the inspections that Saddam is not disarming
when the inspections in fact don’t show anything of the kind. They’re
not designed to show whether he is actively disarming (whatever
that might be) but to determine if he has weapons hidden.
Another advantage of the U.N. resolution method is
that the process can be interpreted as Saddam welching on an agreement
he made to cooperate fully with the inspectors. That sidesteps the
little matter that the resolution was passed without Iraqi participation
and would be viewed, if contested in a real court of law, as an
agreement made under threat or duress. It’s not an agreement entered
into mutually and voluntarily, but something forced on Saddam.
The leaks so far suggest that President Bush will
not use the State of the Union address to announce an imminent war,
nor will he announce a smoking gun that the inspectors missed or
didn’t get to yet. One would think that since every administration
spokesperson declares as a fact that we already know what the inspections
are putatively designed to determine – that the nasty guy does have
nasty weapons and that’s simply a fact – the pressure would build
to let the American people know why their government personnel are
Is there credible American intelligence that there
are usable chemical or biological weapons concealed somewhere in
Iraq? If so, the government should at least let the inspectors know
so as to guide them to a possible site, or let the American people
and the world know what evidence allows them to speak so confidently.
Administration spokesmen have talked darkly of the danger of revealing
sources and methods and thus compromising intelligence operatives,
but it’s impossible to know whether that’s simply a cover for the
fact that they don’t have the goods on Saddam even now.
this discussion of the minutiae of the inspections regime or the
likelihood of finding weapons, however, is a little beside the point.
The real question is whether there is a justification for war that
would be in keeping with, as some obscure document written long
ago put it, "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind"
and the best of the American tradition. I doubt if the president
will supply it, tonight or ever.
We are talking, remember, about an attack on a country
recognized as sovereign in the international system. The usual rule
in international law – at least until now – is that an attack on
a sovereign nation can be justified only if that nation has attacked
another sovereign nation. The whole point – well, maybe not the
whole point, but certainly an important aspect – of recognizing
sovereignty in the international system is to reduce the frequency
of military attacks, preferably confining them to truly outlaw nations
and necessary actions to punish outlaw nations.
International law and common sense recognize a narrow
exception to this general rule in the case of an imminent attack
or breach of the peace, such as reliable information about troops
massing on borders or intercepted electronic signals ordering troops
or equipment to be moved around in preparation for an imminent –
days or weeks at most – attack. That is what a pre-emptive strike
But is there any evidence that Iraq poses an imminent
threat to attack the United States in weeks or months? Do any of
its neighbors fear an imminent attack? Is Kuwait actively quaking
in its boots? Is Turkey? Is Qatar? Is Saudi Arabia? Is Iran? Is
even Israel expecting an attack anytime soon that would justify
a pre-emptive attack to keep it from happening?
So far the case for an attack on Saddam – even if
it is demonstrated that he has certain weapons and even if he has
a semi-active program to develop nuclear weapons – is based on the
projection that if he does get usable weapons he might, sometime
in the future – months, years, even decades from now – do something
that seriously threatens Israel or the United States. That should
not be viewed as justification for the America I love to initiate
520 South Murphy Avenue #202 Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Contribute Via our Secure Server Credit Card Donation Form
contributions are tax-deductible