January 30, 2003



"[Colin Powell] understands we must have deadlines. And we're talking days and weeks, not months and years." -- George Bush, Sept. 13, 2002

"This is a matter of weeks not months," Mr. Bush said. -- Bush again, 20 weeks later.

Posted by BruceR at 03:48 PM

KAPLAN NAILS IT Another insightful


Another insightful piece from Robert Kaplan in TNR, on the creek the Americans seem to have paddled up, over Iraq.

The conundrum, by now, is obvious. And Kaplan successfully outlines the Americans' remaining options: either a) being able to present a smoking gun of their own to the Security Council, an "Adlai Stevenson moment," as he calls it; or b) buying off the veto votes on the Security Council somehow; or c) presenting the world with a satisfactory fait accompli after a lightning and easy unilateral conquest of Iraq.

While other sites I could mention have posted invasion timetables, then revised invasion timetables, then revised, revised invasion timetables, this site's been pretty consistent, and I think right in the final analysis. The plan was never to go to war outright... it was to ratchet up the pressure, drip by drip, on Hussein until he did something stupid, as he could always be counted on to do in the past, and so present America with the casus. As I've pointed out, that is the uniquely American way of war, and it should have worked this time... if Hussein wasn't an old fox who has managed to avoid any provocation whatsoever.

Even if Hussein didn't move, of course, the American strategy still had great short-term value, in that it contained Hussein while matters of greater urgency were resolved elsewhere. But the ratcheting has a logic of its own, too... like a smoker consuming more packs a week, you need more effort with each passing month to get the same buzz. At some point, you end up with 180,000 troops in the Gulf, and only one golf club (the 70,000 soldiers waiting for redeployment in Europe) left in the bag. When they move, war is certain. Until they move, war is unlikely. And everyone can see that.

As to the options above, Kaplan, like me, simply doesn't believe that smoking gun is there for Powell to present, so that rules out a). I'm sure Colin will show some photos to the Security Council, but they won't say anything truly appalling to the lay analyst. Option c) is a horrible, HORRIBLE set of initial conditions for any military commander to work under, and is no doubt being fought strenuously by every senior general in the Pentagon. It demands the campaign they launch be instant, bloodless, and perfect, or the whole thing goes off the rails as pressure at home and abroad builds. No war goes like that. Ever. Even crossing the 300 miles from Kuwait to Baghdad at top Abrams speed would take more time than they safely have... which no doubt is what resulted in the trial balloons we heard of over the last year from the Rumsfeld camp, about fighting the war solely with Special Forces parachutists and JDAMS. That, as Schwarzkopf himself was clearly trying to say in so many words last week, would be a huge abdication of America's responsibility to its soldiers, as that way lies disaster.

So that leaves option b), which still seems the most likely at this point... the great French buy-off. The exact price fluctuates with the headlines, of course, but that's the game now, as far as one can tell.

Oh, the Yanks can blame the UN for this, or Europe, or whoever they want, really. But considerable blame has to go towards the current Administration... not for dealing with the UN, or with Europe, or even with their own Congress, as some of their hotheads also wanted to avoid. All that would have been unnecessary, if the whole approach from the start hadn't been so fundamentally dishonest and untrue to America's own ideals. Every word a lie, it seems: talking arms control when you mean regime change, talking regime change when you mean Marshallite reconstruction of the Middle East... if America had been candid with itself from the start about what it was, and what they should want to achieve, they'd be no worse off than they are now, and with a clear path for the future.

As Michael Kinsley points out in Slate today, if Hussein is really a monster whose people we want to save, then no further justification is required among good people. So long as America cites the oppression of Iraqis and Kurds, while keeping the option open of zero change should Hussein flee the country first, there is no moral seriousness to their policy... and no requirement for anyone to think past the obvious realpolitiking explanations for American involvement there: Zionism... oil... world domination.

Imagine a different set of circumstances. Imagine, for instance, if the United States had started boldly, instead of weaselling into a confrontation. If they had said that, as the guardian of democracy for the world, they could not, would not, allow the No-Fly Zone-Republic of Kurdistan to revert to Iraqi sovereignty, ever. If assistance, peaceful and otherwise, had poured into that new nation, to build it up, democratize it (they are already soooo close) and defend it against the inevitable Muslim backlash... this time against their fellow Muslims. Consequences:

1) Considerable pressure lifted off Israel, in every way;
2) The neutering of Hussein's ambition, and claim to regency, having like Milosevic lost half his country for his sins;
3) The example of a successful Muslim democracy in the Middle East, just as some now wish to see in Iraq;
4) An angry Turkey, no longer able to easily brutalize its own Kurdish minority (so sad).
5) A dropping in world oil prices, and a reduced reliance on the Saudis, undermining them, as well.
6) A growing acceptance that some of the borders of 1918 have outlived their usefulness, leading perhaps to final resolutions in all the other failed states being held together by the international community's whim: Somalia, Bosnia, Cyprus.

All the gains, in other words, that the Wolfowitzians hope to gain from a war in Iraq, in return for some small measure of instability. As others wiser than I have argued... that instability is in the world's best interest right now.

But most of all, it would allow America to be HONEST with itself. And proud of itself. And for the rest of the world to be proud of them again. The advocates of the current Iraq war never rise much above a utilitarian claim of the need for self-defence in their rationales... even those who advocate forcibly democratizing the whole Middle East, truly see it only as a way to stop future Sept. 11s. But let's face it... as Mark Steyn outlines today in the Post, if all that is at stake is American security, then no country in the world really has a compelling interest. France doesn't. Canada doesn't. So long as America wants to take on all the slings and arrows of hyperpower-hatred upon itself, then the rest of us are, to all intents and purposes, practically immune from terrorism (misdirected and mindless outrages like the Bali bombing notwithstanding). The inevitable consequence of the American stance with respect to the rest of the world today is seen in every other country, with a political coterie at the top attempting to cynically extract maximum bargaining advantage out of their co-operation with the Yanks, and a vocal anti-American minority rioting in the streets. There was a time, I'm saying, when those rioters would have been FOR America... and the bargain consequently less dear for all concerned. They could have been this time, too. (All talk about pacifism aside, Germany was in for $4 billion in straight-up cash back in 1990... money one would think the tax-cutting Americans would still want to be offered this time, too.)

A United States that was willing to go to war for freedom in Kurdistan, period, would have been an America no democratic nation could have said no to, were we called into the coalition of the willing. The United Nations would have had no choice but to rubber stamp the result.

I watched some of the speechifying in the Canadian House of Commons last night. One thing was clear... the few, very few Canadians who support the U.S. on this (now around 15 per cent, apparently, about the same as believe Elvis is still alive)... their spokesmen's argument boils down to, "we must disarm Iraq so that they can't someday sell a destructive weapon they may or may not have now to an unidentified terrorist to use on the continental United States." That is not, can never be, a casus for a non-American. But in fairness... it's all the Americans have given us to work with.

Posted by BruceR at 03:37 PM