The United Nations is in diplomatic disarray today as the foreign ministers from the world’s most powerful nations scramble to find some scrap of common ground on the question of war with Iraq.
What a difference a few months makes. Last November, under the leadership of the United States, the 15-member U.N. Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1441, strengthening the weapons inspection regime and giving Iraq a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations.
The rapidity with which that unity has unraveled is astounding. What began as a constructive process to gain international support for war against Iraq has disintegrated into insults, accusations, and finger-pointing among the key members of the Security Council. Instead of forging an international coalition to deal with Iraq, as it set out to do, the Administration has managed to turn much world opinion against United States. With his insistence that the United Nations declare the inspection regime a failure and immediately authorize war against Iraq, the President has opened a chasm between the U.S. and Great Britain on one side and the remaining permanent members of the Security Council on the other.
The White House is declaring the United Nations irrelevant if it does not authorize immediate war against Iraq, and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is countering that a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq without the sanction of the United Nations will violate the U.N. charter.
The knock-down, drag-out in the Security Council has tarnished the images of both the United Nations and the United States, and it has imperiled the political career of at least one world leader, President Bush’s staunchest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
What a high price to pay for the President’s insistence on blindly following a war-first, war-now policy on Iraq.
Despite feverish activity this week on the part of the U.S. and Great Britain to persuade a majority of members of the Security Council to support a second resolution authorizing war with Iraq, the President and his chief advisers have made it clear that the activity is merely window dressing and that the United States is prepared to act with or without U.N. support. For the Bush Administration, war with Iraq seems to be no longer a question of if, but when — and the window on “when” is rapidly closing.
Dr. Condoleezza Rice, the President’s National Security Advisor, declared over the weekend, “There is plenty of authority to act. We are trying very hard to have the Security Council one more time affirm that authority. But it’s important to know that we believe the authority is there.”
In other words, the die has been cast. The rhetoric has hardened. U.S. forces are in place and poised to attack. The U.N. Security Council has been relegated to a classic Greek chorus of tragic protest while the United States takes center stage. The President has stopped listening.
The Administration’s strategy for war with Iraq is so far advanced that not only does the President have war plans on his desk, he also has a blueprint for the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.
On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Agency for International Development is soliciting bids from a handful of U.S. firms for a contract worth as much as $900 million dollars to begin the reconstruction of Iraq. According to the Journal, the contract would be the largest reconstruction effort undertaken by the United States since the reconstruction of Germany and Japan after World War II.
With post-war contracts already in hand, can the onset of war be far behind?
My views, by now, are well known. I believe this coming war is a grave mistake, not because Saddam Hussein does not deserve to be disarmed or driven from power, not because some of our allies object to war, but because Iraq does not pose an imminent threat to the security of the United States. There is no question that the United States has the military might to defeat Saddam Hussein, but we are on much shakier ground when it comes to the question of why this nation, under the current circumstances, is rushing to unleash the horrors of war on the people of Iraq.
In many corners of the world, the United States is seen as manufacturing a crisis in Iraq, not responding to one. Key members of the U.N. Security Council, including France and Russia, have vowed to veto any move to secure the imprimatur of the UN on war with Iraq. The UN weapons inspectors have pleaded for more time to do their work. Citizens by the thousands have taken to the streets in countries around the globe, including the United States, Europe, and the Middle East, to protest the war.
The day after the September 11 terrorist attacks on America, the French newspaper Le Monde proclaimed, “We are all Americans!” Eighteen months later, the United States and France are hurling insults at each other, and the French are leading the opposition to the war against Iraq. In country after country, the United States has seen the outpouring of compassion and support that followed September 11 dissolve into anger and resentment at this Administration’s heavy-handed attempts to railroad the world into supporting a questionable war with Iraq.
The latest report of the U.N. weapons inspectors only heightened the tensions in the Security Council and helped to precipitate the current scramble for a new resolution. On Friday, (March 7) Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix reported progress in the disarmament of Iraq and predicted that the inspection process could be completed in months — “not years, nor weeks, but months.”
At the same meeting, Mohamed El Baradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, threw cold water on a key assertion of the Bush Administration, that Iraq is actively pursuing a nuclear capability on two fronts — by importing high-strength aluminum tubes which could be used as part of a centrifuge to produce enriched uranium and by attempting to buy uranium from Niger. Dr. El Baradei said the inspectors have found no evidence that Iraq is attempting to revive its nuclear weapons program, concluding that the aluminum tubes were for a rocket engine program, as Iraq claimed, and that the documents used to establish the Niger connection were faked.
Not even reports of a chilling discovery by U.N. weapons inspectors of a new type of rocket in Iraq that appears to be designed to carry chemical or biological agents has swayed the hardening opposition in the United Nations to authorizing an immediate war against Iraq.
The world is awash in anti-Americanism. The doctrine of preemption enshrined in the Bush Administration’s national security strategy — the policy on which the war with Iraq is predicated — has turned the global image of the United States from that of a world class peacemaker into what many believe is dangerous warmonger.
The President is on the wrong track in insisting on rushing into war without the support of the international community, and specifically the United Nations. Not only is America’s reputation on the line, but so is our war on terror. The recent arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and two of his cohorts in Pakistan is evidence that the United States is making slow but steady progress in dismantling the al Qaeda organization, and that we are reaping huge dividends from the anti-terrorism efforts we have undertaken in cooperation with other nations in the Middle East.
Pakistan’s cooperation is particularly important in the war on terror, yet the majority of the Pakistani people are opposed to war with Iraq. How or whether Pakistani opposition to the war against Iraq will affect the war against terror is one of many unknowns.
The United States cannot bring down al Qaeda alone. We need support and cooperation from friendly nations in the region. We risk losing their friendship, and possibly causing major upheavals in the Middle East, if the President defies world opinion and launches a U.S. led invasion of Iraq. The cost of war and the potential casualties — not only to American military personnel but also to innocent civilians in and around Iraq — are unknowns. The impact of war on the fragile fabric of the Middle East is also unknown. The Administration seems to think that war with Iraq will pave the way to peace and democracy in the Middle East, but I believe that is merely wishful thinking. Saddam Hussein is not the cause of the strife between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and his downfall will not erase the deeply rooted conflict between the two sides.
War against Iraq may prove to be a fatal distraction from the war on terror. The danger to Americans today is from al Qaeda. Intelligence officials predict that war with Iraq will precipitate a new wave a terrorism against the United States and its allies, and will serve as a powerful recruiting tool for anti-American extremists.
We need to keep the pressure on al Qaeda. We need to strengthen our defenses against a terrorist attack here at home. We need to focus the resources of our nation on the war on terror and dismantle the al Qaeda network before it can mount another catastrophic attack on the United States.
The hour is late, the clock is ticking, but if the President would only listen to voices outside his war cabinet, he might discover that it is not too late to stop the rush to war. There is still a chance that Saddam Hussein can be disarmed and neutralized short of war. As long as that possibility exists, the United States should drop its resistance to any slowdown in the march to war and should begin to talk with, and listen to, the other members of the Security Council.
The prospect of regaining unanimity within the United Nations on the question of Iraq is dim at best, but as long as there remains even a glimmer of hope, it is in the best interests of both the United States and the other members of the Security Council to regroup and strive to achieve that goal. The world community deserves nothing less.