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Roadblocks Slow Bush Juggernaut
Published on Thursday, October 3, 2002 in the Toronto Star
Roadblocks Slow Bush Juggernaut
by Haroon Siddiqui
 

WE MAY be excused for being confused by the cascade of contradicting headlines on Iraq: "War is coming"/"War fears fading"; "Allies lining up for U.S."/"U.S. scrambling at U.N."; "Chrétien questions U.S. policy"/"Canada backs U.S. on Iraq."

Commentators are not the only ones reading the tea leaves the way they want but reporters, too, and not due to ideology alone. There is enough activity on several parallel military and diplomatic tracks to justify just about any storyline.

But two overall trends are clear:

  • Saddam Hussein is not the only one playing cat and mouse games. America and Britain are being stalled and outmaneuvered by other members of the Security Council, as well as by the United Nations bureaucracy.

  • George W. Bush's view of the world and his bulldozer tactics, which angered and alienated the Arab world and then European and other allies, are beginning to be resisted at home as well. The cocoon of patriotism he had used to shield himself from domestic dissent has, finally, cracked.

    Faced with near-unanimous opposition to a unilateral war — and also to his doctrine of pre-emptive strike anywhere, anytime — Bush went to the U.N. seeking allies. Supporters saw it as a clever move to call the world's bluff. It hasn't turned out that way.

    Russia, China and France, supported by Canada, working with Secretary-General Kofi Annan, have resisted giving Bush a blank check. They are trying to tie him to a U.N. process, which, they hope, would eliminate the weapons of mass destruction but de-legitimize his plan for regime change in Iraq.

    When U.N. weapons inspectors met Iraqi officials this week to resume inspections suspended four years ago, both sides operated under 1998 rules allowing the Iraqis to keep eight so-called presidential sites off-limits to inspections.

    But America wants a new, tougher resolution. It does not want the inspectors to go to Iraq until the new rules are in place. Iraq does not agree. Most allies, including Canada, do. What they do not agree on is America's insistence on including in that resolution the authority to use force. They don't trust trigger-happy Bush. They think he would launch a war at the first plausible excuse, and he has set the stage for several. They want him to come back later for such a mandate.

    Bubbling below the surface, there is another diplomatic war. Annan and several allies, including Canada, want the inspectors to be independent. In 1998, they were accused of spying for America. Which is partly why the U.N. Special Commission was dismantled and a new one constituted, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.

    UNMOVIC's job is to monitor and destroy chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles with a range of more than 160 kilometers. The job of destroying the Iraqi nuclear weapons program remains with another U.N. group, the Vienna-based Atomic Energy Agency.

    The latter may take a year to catch up on Iraqi nuclear activity, thereby robbing Bush, at least for that long, of one of his reasons for wanting to attack Iraq.

    UNMOVIC chief Dr. Hans Blix, a former head of the atomic agency for 16 years, made it clear Tuesday that he answers to the U.N., not the U.S. An angry Colin Powell retorted that Blix answers to the U.N. all right but that the U.N. has yet to give him his new marching orders.

    There are also arguments over whether the UNMOVIC team should be joined by civilian and military representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council. There are two fears: that the 63 inspectors from 27 countries would lose their independence; and that American and British representatives may sabotage the mission so as to start a war, or at least gather advance intelligence for one.

    Meanwhile, a growing debate in America is removing the post-Sept. 11 halo around the president.

    While the éminence grise of the Republican establishment have been raising serious doubts for weeks, and Al Gore's bold critique brought the battle into the partisan political arena, what got the administration into serious trouble was what had got it there with the allies: branding all critics as enemies.

    The "you are with us or against us" mentality that psychoanalyzed Muslims as anti-democratic and their religion as evil, and dismissed Europeans as suffering from "America envy," led, inevitably, to Bush questioning the patriotism of the Democrat-controlled Senate.

    As the gloves came off, the Iraq debate took off. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a war veteran, said: "To attack a nation that has not attacked us will go down in history as something that we would not be proud of."

    Three congressmen visiting Iraq accused the administration of misleading Americans. Senator Ted Kennedy demolished every one of Bush's rationales for war. So did a parade of generals testifying before Congress: Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Wesley Clark, former NATO military commander; Gen. John O. Hoar, former chief of the Central Command; Gen. Anthony Zinni, retired Marine Corps general, named Bush's special envoy to the Middle East.

    They said what the world has been saying: there is scant evidence of Iraqi collusion with Al Qaeda; Iraq poses no imminent danger; and a war on Iraq would detract from the war on terrorism, inflame the Arab world and cause unpredictable consequences, as well as undermine America's long-term strategic and economic interests.

    All this won't deter Congress from authorizing war. It may not be sufficient to stop the war. But at least many prominent people are working hard to avoid one, even while defanging Saddam Hussein.

    Haroon Siddiqui is The Star's editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears on this page Thursday.

    Copyright 1996-2002. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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