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Tide Turns Against Bush
Published on Tuesday, March 11, 2003 by the Toronto Star
Tide Turns Against Bush
by Thomas Walkom
 

The Iraq crisis is no longer about stopping Iraq. It is about stopping the United States.

This is the real significance of what is going on now at the United Nations, of the peace marches around the world, of the political turmoil that rocks staunchly pro-U.S. leaders such as Britain's Tony Blair and Australia's John Howard.

Most countries outside the U.S. are no longer worried about rogue Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. They are worried about rogue American President George W. Bush.

It is this that finally pushed Russia and France to announce yesterday that they will veto any attempt by Washington to have the U.N. Security Council authorize a March 17 ultimatum to Iraq and, in effect, a March 18 war.

It is this, rather than some kind of Gallic spleen, that sends French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin flying around the world lobbying against an Iraq war.

When Bush's father cobbled together a political and military coalition in 1991 to oppose Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, he won widespread support from the rest of the world.

At the time, most of those who dissented argued either on the basis of timing (as did then opposition leader Jean Chrétien) or consistency: Why make war to reverse Iraq's annexation of Kuwait but not, say, Israel's occupation of the West Bank or Turkey's invasion of Cyprus?

However, the principle behind the 1991 Gulf War — that nations do not have an open-ended right to invade other countries — was generally accepted.

The United Nations itself was established to codify that principle. Germany and Japan had tried to justify their World War II aggression in many ways: The rectification of old grievances, anti-colonialism, economic necessity, even energy security. But the U.N. Charter swept all of these excuses away.

Except in the most narrow instances, war was to be outlawed. The fact that one country might not approve of another's leader or system of government was to be no justification for aggression.

Indeed, those who did make war were liable to be tried and punished. This was the message of the U.S.-run 1946 Tokyo war crimes trials, where 15 of the 25 Japanese military and political leaders found guilty were convicted, not for crimes against humanity (those who used chemical and biological weapons against civilians were quietly pardoned in exchange for their expertise) but for waging "unprovoked" and "aggressive" war against sovereign states.

When, at Washington's urging, the Security Council gathered again last fall to debate Iraq, these same principles were at the forefront. Iraq had committed an international crime 11 years earlier; the U.N. had ordered it to rid itself of certain weapons; there was no evidence that this disarmament had occurred.

The 15-member Security Council unanimously ordered weapons inspectors to enter Iraq again and make sure it had done what it was supposed to do.

However, two things have occurred since then.

The first is that inspections worked. When pushed to the wall, Iraq reluctantly co-operated. Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and his team have found no evidence of a chemical or biological weapons program.

Nor, as Blix told the U.N. last week, have they found evidence supporting any of the more extravagant U.S. allegations, such as mobile anthrax labs or underground chemical factories.

Where they concluded that weapons did break the rules (as in the case of the Al Samoud 2 missiles that fly 30 kilometres farther than they should), Iraq grudgingly agreed to destroy them.

Similarly, nuclear inspectors have found no evidence that Iraq tried to restart its atomic bomb program. In fact, they found that some of the evidence suggesting otherwise, provided to them by Western intelligence agencies, was forged.

But the second, and more important, development since last fall has been a worldwide reappraisal of U.S. motives.

Initially, some argued that Bush's bellicosity was a skilful tactic designed to pressure Iraq. But now, it's clear that simple disarmament is not his aim.

Rather, Bush wants to occupy Iraq for an indeterminate period of time and eventually replace Saddam's government with one more to his liking.

As Chrétien noted on Sunday, this makes the rest of the world nervous.

For now it is not Iraq, a minor Middle Eastern power, that is in potential defiance of the U.N. system, but the mighty U.S. In effect, Bush has served notice that the painstaking logic of collective security, which the U.S. itself did so much to create 58 years ago, is to be junked.

War is to be no longer a last resort but an active part of superpower foreign policy. Decisions on the international order are to be made not at the U.N. but in Washington alone. The sovereignty of other nations is now to be wholly contingent upon U.S. geopolitical interests.

No wonder the rest of the world is nervous. No wonder that France, Germany, Russia and (maybe) China have forged their unlikely peace coalition. No wonder that even Canada is alarmed.

Thomas Walkom's column appears on Tuesday.

Copyright 1996-2003. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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