November 12, 2002
in an Inspection Bubble
it comes to foolish actions by nation-states and nascent empires,
I'm probably more fatalistic than average. The prudent, cautious
rule in such matters is to expect maximum foolishness so you can
be modestly grateful on those few occasions when the appalling people
who rule us fall short of maximum stupidity.
the safest bet is to expect that the United States will invade Iraq
with a military force, and sooner rather than later. Gen. Tommy
Franks and 600 senior staff officers will be in Qatar at the end
of the month, ostensibly for a war-games exercise, but don't be
surprised if a permanent command post is established.
and equipment, the most difficult of military necessities to move
close to the field of battle (especially if Saudis and Turks are
questionable) are being hustled to Kuwait and points nearby. B1
and B2 bombers have been sighted in Oman. Britain is poised to announce
the mobilization of thousands of troops and reserves.
in all, the conventional newsies suggest that if a relatively light
invasion force – 130,000 or fewer – is deemed sufficient, it could
be good to go by early or mid-December. It might be January before
a substantially larger force, say in the 250,000-plus neighborhood,
would be ready to attack, although serious bombing could begin before
all the necessary ground troops were in place.
CHANCE FOR PEACE?
the passage of a somewhat modified anti-Saddam resolution by the
UN Security Council last Friday might slow down the invasion timetable
by just a bit – and that might be long enough for second thoughts
to develop. If Saddam Hussein breaks character and not only cooperates
with the UN weapons inspectors but convinces them he has destroyed
all or most of his "weapons of mass destruction" capabilities,
there might not even be an invasion.
have heard a few observers suggest the rather cynical possibility
that the Bush administration played the Iraq card nicely – focusing
on reasons to dislike Saddam, al Qaida and the like without being
so specific as to raise doubts or threaten support – during the
recent midterm election. In this scenario, Bush got what he wanted
and more than most thought was possible from the Iraq card – not
only a substantial increase in the House but enough Republican victories
to gain control of the Senate – and an actual war isn't really necessary.
a credible UN inspection program and a few bursts of tough talk
combined with ominous troop and materiel movements will satisfy
a desire to take out Saddam that is considerably more pronounced
among certain policy wonks than among the general public. Maybe
the administration can get credit for eliminating or neutralizing
a threat from weapons of mass destruction that was more theoretical
than real to begin with, without producing too many body bags.
a strict hold-and-expand partisan power in Washington perspective,
that might just be ideal for Republicans who are still in the preliminary
stages of understanding just how thorough their electoral triumph
last week was. It would eliminate the possibility, always present
in even the best-planned military encounters, that something could
go drastically, massively, tragically wrong. It would obviate the
necessity, acknowledged by hawks and doves alike, of essentially
occupying Iraq for at least a few years after a putative victory.
might even free up some resources for actions against some al Qaida
remnants that might actually earn the administration more credit
among 2004 voters than a war – even a successful war followed by
a relatively welcome occupation in the first few months – on Iraq.
It could be sold fairly readily as a shrewd combination of restraint,
toughness and determination.
is just possible, then, to imagine that the entire flap over Saddam
and his vaunted weapons of mass destruction have been more distraction
than the steady build-up to an actual shooting war, cleverly planned
by the Bushies to gain maximum electoral advantage from the possibility
without the actuality of war. This possibility is reinforced by
certain matters of timing.
took quite a while – from September 12 to November 8 – to get the
United Nations actually to pass a resolution. While this period
did see some pre-mobilization activities in the moving of supplies
to forward bases in the Middle East, it also delays the beginning
of outright hostilities. The inspection regime likely to emerge
from the resolution that was passed will take a while to create
a suitable casus belli in the outright defiance of Saddam's
regime – if things go according to the current timetable.
upshot of all this is that it might be March or so before an actual
war begins. That's the beginning of the hot season in Iraq, which
is not the best time for fighting wars with a modicum of decency.
For just one example, if there is a serious possibility that a trapped-like-a-rat
Saddam might unleash chemical or biological weapons on U.S. troops,
those troops will have to wear effective, but heavy and relatively
clumsy outfits to protect them. This will decrease mobility and
the keepers of the empire really want to fight, it would be better
to start in December, or January at the latest.
this is all likely to be something of a pacifist dream. There are
still plenty of signs that the administration means to have its
little war and have it fairly quickly. Administration officials
are already talking about a "zero tolerance" policy (an
especially pernicious concept in a society that aspires to be civilized,
smuggled into common parlance by the failed drug war) toward Iraqi
questions or delays regarding the UN resolution. Fail to meet a
deadline by a minute or two, these spokesmen imply, and Saddam Hussein
will be toast.
the news stories express confidence that "the rubber-stamp
parliament is eventually expected to recommend acceptance,"
the first day of deliberation by the Iraqi parliament featured suitable
defiance, suggesting that the Iraqi leadership is playing its assigned
role in its eventual destruction. Saadoum Hammadi, billed as the
parliament speaker, described the resolution as "provocative,
deceitful and a preamble for war. The head of the foreign relations
committee "advises the rejection of Security Council Resolution
1441 and to not agree to it."
are numerous tripwires in the inspection process that could lead
to a fairly swift invasion. If Iraq, pleading sovereignty, refuses
to let inspectors have unrestricted and immediate access to some
site, like a "presidential palace," that looks even remotely
suspicious, that could be viewed as a reason for an invasion.
it's probably judicious to expect that war with Iraq will happen.
It is possible that questions and doubts from other countries and
from a few domestic critics with influence actually caused those
in the administration influenced by the most aggressive of the war
hawks to delay and go through the motions of consulting with the
UN. It is remotely possible that further questions and doubts –
or an inspection regime that can be spun as successful – will hold
off an invasion indefinitely. Those of us who continue to doubt
the wisdom of invading Iraq should certainly continue to make our
criticisms as loudly and as publicly as we are able.
it might not be wise to bet that this war won't happen.
CHANGE IN ISRAEL?
have just a few preliminary thoughts about the possibility of political
change in Israel following the announcement of relatively early
countries with parliamentary systems, the leader seldom calls a
"snap" election unless he or she believes it will help
the party in power. Leaders can miscalculate, of course, and circumstances
can change. But the smart money would bet that Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon dissolved the Israeli Knesset and called for early
elections – tentatively in February – because he believes his own
Likud Party will reap political benefits.
wasn't the only factor, of course. Politics in any relatively democratic
country are usually more messy than straightforward. Sharon seemed
to be and probably was reluctant to call early elections. He was
pushed into it by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who
took the position of foreign minister.
would Netanyahu want early elections? He argued that since the Knesset
had been elected three years ago – before the current "intifada"
began and before the one-time abandoned experiment of electing a
prime minister separately from the parliamentary elections – the
Likud was underrepresented and Labor overrepresented in terms of
current public opinion.
why would Sharon be reluctant? In some ways, Leon Hadar, former
United Nations correspondent for the Jerusalem Post told
me, Sharon prefers a "unity" government with Labor ministers
in the cabinet to a government with an outright Likud majority.
It makes him appear more statesmanlike and less partisan.
leads to the reason former defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
and other Labor ministers resigned and precipitated the crisis.
Newspapers have noted that Ben-Eliezer had been trailing in the
contest to be Labor's party leader; his numbers rose after he resigned.
Mr. Hadar also noted that by staying within the "unity"
government the Labor Party faced the possibility of losing its identity
and independence. So the very existence of Labor as a viable political
force in Israel might have been seen to be at stake.
all this domestic politicking is unlikely to change the strategic
situation. Unless a political earthquake occurs, the next Israeli
government is likely to face a Palestinian Authority in no mood
to hold serious peace talks, at least for some years. I would be
amazed if the incoming Israeli government is ready for serious peace
talks. The election might influence how aggressively Israel prosecutes
the conflict, but the conflict will not go away.
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