March 13, 2003
In South Bend Tribune, slightly edited, March 18, 2003
The diplomatic battle over the impending war in Iraq is tragic. Whatever the outcome, the tactics and arguments of all sides are hurting their own interests, making war more likely, and increasing the risks and costs of the impending war.
In one corner, we have President Bush. Given Iraq's long history of human rights violations, starting wars, thwarting the U.N., and preferring sanctions to U.N.-mandated disarmament, some of the most persuasive arguments for war against Iraq are legal and humanitarian. Unfortunately, Bush places little stock in the U.N. or international law, so his arguments there ring a bit hollow, even though the substance of those arguments is solid.
Some of Bush's arguments about Iraqi WMD and links to terrorism are overblown, today. Current links to terrorism are fairly minor, and Iraqi WMD capabilities are diminished albeit real. Because it helps to have a clear and present danger to mobilize domestic and international opinion, or to start a war, Bush tends to overplay these threats.
The real WMD argument for war is more subtle, and not immediate. It is harder to make, so tends to be avoided. Until Bush acted, Saddam Hussein was on track to having sanctions lifted and being "rehabilitated" by the international community. Sanctions were slipping, illegal exports of oil were skyrocketing, and Saddam's profits from these sales went from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars.
Saddam is a murdering liar and a determined proliferator. An unrestrained Saddam would use his oil money to rebuild his military and bring his WMD programs up to full speed. This is a war for oil: when Saddam has oil, it turns into weapons.
Based on his track record, Saddam kills 50,000-100,000 people a year. In just over 20 years: 1.3 million combat deaths in two wars, 250,000 Kurds, marsh Arabs and other domestic opponents, and perhaps 200,000-500,000 dead because of the sanctions (which Saddam chose over disarming). What will a 'rehabilitated' Saddam do? New wars with neighbors? Perhaps a conflict culminating in a nuclear war with Israel? Perhaps his ties with terrorists will grow and he will use them to visit a WMD attack on the U.S.? Any of these are possible, perhaps even probable and costly enough to justify an attack today to reduce the risk tomorrow. But it is hard to mobilize people based on a discussion that weighs costs and benefits in the present, much less the future.
Bush has badly handled the diplomacy on Iraq. Support for the war is thin, and prospects for risk-reducing U.N. legitimation seem remote. Arrogance, disrespect, bellicose doctrines, and unilateralism do not win friends. Even when one must use force, the velvet glove should precede and accompany those efforts. Bush is credibly tough, but inspires disbelief when sounding constructive. People doubt there are credible plans to rebuild Iraq, to build democracy, to push for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and so on. This war is not embedded into a larger, realistic, constructive grand strategy for either regional peace or the control of WMD.
There are good reasons for war, but Bush's diplomatic failures have greatly increased the risks of future backlash, regional instability, and hurt prospects for the international cooperation upon which the U.S. must ultimately rely.
Opponents of the war, led by France, scarcely do better. The normally cynical French now trust that either Saddam will come clean in his umpteenth chance since 1991 or that a handful of inspectors can disarm Iraq. They voted for U.N. resolution 1441 on November 8, 2002, giving a final chance for disarmament to an Iraq already in material breach. On March 10, 2003, Jacques Chirac of France said: "It's not for you or me to say whether the inspections are effective, if Iraq is sufficiently cooperative -- it is not, by the way, I'll tell you that straight away." By the logic of 1441, France should support the "serious consequences:" war.
Yet Chirac accompanied recognition of Iraq's failures with the promise to veto a resolution authorizing military action. Chirac said: "France will vote 'no' because she considers tonight that there is no reason to wage a war to reach the goal we set ourselves, that is the disarmament of Iraq." Given Iraq's non-compliance and within the context of 1441, this is tantamount to appeasement and it increases the probability of war. Merci.
France and others also seem to ignore a recent 173 page UN inspection team report. Four months after UN Resolution 1441 demanded Iraq's cooperative disarmament, the remaining uncertainties and probable violations are so numerous they are divided up into 29 clusters. Blix expresses hope at the U.N, but his document offers little. Iraq issued its fifth Full, Final, and Complete Declaration (FFCD) on bioweapons in 1997. Five FFCD's is oxymoronic lying, and there are still 40 pages on current BW uncertainties in the Blix report.
The U.S. argues that the U.N. will be irrelevant if it does not enforce its resolutions. And France says that the U.N. will be irrelevant if it rubber stamps a U.S. war. On the substance, the U.S. is right: Iraq is not cooperating. Iraq's track record offers no reasonable hope of improvement. It is too bad that the French, who do believe in the U.N., are trashing the U.N. to knock the U.S. down a peg. It is too bad that the Bush administration never respected the U.N. in the first place.
The result of this Pyrrhic diplomacy is that both sides have increased the risks of the war to come, while damaging the E.U., NATO, and the U.N. While the war against Iraq is legal and justifiable, poor planning, poor diplomacy, and lack of a U.N. consensus will increase the numbers of casualties. I primarily blame Saddam for this war. But bellicose diplomacy by Bush and what boils down to appeasement with ulterior motives by others mean more death in the near term and international disorder in the long term.
Lesson for future presidents: plan for war as part of deciding for war. Line up your ducks. Speak softly. Find the velvet glove. Put some nice into your grand strategy. All of these things will actually make using the big stick easier and less risky.