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Bush Now Has To Refuse To Take Yes For An Answer
Published on Tuesday, September 17, 2002 in the Toronto Star
Bush Now Has To Refuse To Take Yes For An Answer
by Thomas Walkom
 

Saddam Hussein has thrown George W. Bush and his pro-war friends a most difficult curveball.

By agreeing at the eleventh hour to let United Nations inspectors return unconditionally to Iraq, Saddam has neatly finessed Bush's attempt to give his proposed war on Iraq legitimacy.

If they want to keep their invasion on schedule, Bush and his fellow war buffs will now have to scramble for a way to reject as insufficient what appears to be a full capitulation by Saddam.

They'll have to refuse to take yes for an answer.

Back in Washington, Bush's more hardline advisers will be gnashing their teeth at the U.S. president's decision to move away from Washington's original position which was to eliminate the Saddam regime regardless of what he agreed to.

But Bush was convinced he needed the cover that only the U.N. can supply.

And so came his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last week in which he dared the world body, and more particularly its elite Security Council, to enforce its own resolutions against Iraq.

Or, as the inimitable Texan put it this past weekend, "to show some backbone."

The trouble is that the U.N. Security Council, a body of 15 nations (including the U.S.) charged with keeping the peace in the world, doesn't have quite the same take on Iraq that the Bushites do.

The 14 relevant Security Council resolutions on Iraq do not demand what the White House quaintly calls "regime change" and what normal people call overthrowing the government.

Rather they speak to the much more limited idea of requiring Iraq to destroy all weapons of mass destruction and commit itself not to make any more.

To this end, the Security Council had required Iraq back in 1991 to allow U.N. weapons inspectors into the country.

It wasn't an easy task. The U.N. inspectors complained that Iraq was trying to foil them, which it was.

Iraq complained that some of the inspectors were U.S. spies, which they were.

Eventually, in 1998, the U.N. pulled its inspectors out so they wouldn't be caught in planned U.S. and British air raids on Iraq.

Saddam refused to let them back in unless the U.N. lifted its crippling sanctions on Iraq.

Which is where matters stood until Bush took it into his head to invade.

But there was always a problem with Bush's proposed war. It was hard to keep in mind what the point was.

Since no one, not even Washington, has suggested Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, it was tough to use the war on terrorism as an excuse.

Nor was it a simple matter to argue that Iraq deserved war just because it had flouted 14 U.N. security council resolutions. If every country in defiance of the U.N. were to be invaded, U.S. troops would be very busy.

Pakistan, for instance has been in flagrant violation for 54 years of a security council resolution calling on it to immediately cease aiding insurgents inside Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Israel has been condemned, deplored, censured and warned of dire consequences by the Security Council 60 times since the Jewish state was created in 1948.

Indeed, the language of the Security Council resolutions condemning Israel (many of which were supported and none of which were vetoed by the U.S.) was as severe as anything said about Iraq.

In 1981, the Security Council, including the U.S., unanimously condemned Israel for bombing irony of ironies a suspected nuclear weapons facility in Iraq, calling it a "clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the norms of international conduct."

In short, the failure to respect U.N. resolutions was always a dubious excuse for taking on Saddam.

The U.S. tried to give this rationale more weight by suggesting that Saddam would pass on any weapons of mass destruction he developed to sinister Al Qaeda operatives.

(In fact, if the U.S. wants to prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into the wrong hands, it should probably invade Russia.)

None of the arguments really hung together logically. But jumbled together they provided U.S. talk show hosts with a plausible excuse for invasion.

But in light of Saddam's offer, can the U.N. give Bush the carte blanche he needs? And if it doesn't, can Bush spurn the organization he just three days ago dared to take the initiative against Iraq?

Has Saddam outfoxed the lonesome cowpoke by offering to let the U.N. verify what Bush critics such as former chief weapons inspector Scott Ritter have long been saying: that Iraq isn't really much of a threat anymore?

Thomas Walkom's column appears on Tuesday.

Copyright 1996-2002. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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