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
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
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.
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