Bush Now Has To Refuse To Take Yes For An Answer
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on Tuesday, September 17, 2002 in the Toronto
Now Has To Refuse To Take Yes For An Answer
Saddam Hussein has thrown George W. Bush and his pro-war friends a most difficult
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
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
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
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
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.
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