All Writings
February 9, 2003

The Big Charade

s it possible that in their eagerness to wage war on Iraq and oust President Saddam Hussein the U.S. and British governments are willing to resort to anything, however disingenuous, to make a case against the Iraqi leader? As unsettling as it may be, the answer is yes. Thus, two days ago, the British government admitted what its critics claimed was true–large sections of its report, "Iraq: Its infrastructure of Concealment, Deception and Intimidation" had been taken from magazines and academic journals. Much of this material, the critics also claimed, was obsolete, a charge that has not been refuted by Mr. Blair or his advisors. One alarming fallout from this unsavory affair is that Secretary of State Collin Powell praised the report as "a fine paper" in his appearance before the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on January 29.

There is very little disagreement that Saddam Hussein is a menace to international security. There is also a general consensus that something must be done to disarm him. The question then is not whether he should be disarmed but whether war at this juncture, as Mr. Bush would like us to believe, is the only option. This latest indication of how far Britain and America are prepared to go to push forward their agenda surfaced at a time when the United States continues to face an uphill battle in convincing a skeptical Security Council of the urgent need for war and when both here and abroad more and more questions are being raised about the U.S. government's eagerness to take such a risk. Some critics have accused the Bush administration and the Blair government–of overzealousness, of equating the drive to oust Saddam with a religious crusade; others have said that oil, and oil alone, is behind the administration's fixation on Iraq; still others accuse President Bush of engaging in a personal vendetta. And then there are those who point their finger at an amateurish foreign policy that fails to recognize our global priorities and our unique role in the post-communist era. To be sure, the ongoing problems of the Bush administration in convincing both the American public and the rest of the world of the truth of its claims about Iraq made even more difficult by counterclaims by our own intelligence agencies–have become, in the wake of these new revelations, more acute than ever. It is now extremely critical for this administration to take urgent corrective measures to restore its credibility which has been seriously eroded in the eyes of the international community.

Although Secretary Powell offered a marginally persuasive argument in his recent appearance at the UNSC for Iraq's possession of WMD, he failed to establish any clear and solid link between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi government. Indeed, waging war on Iraq will have very little effect on Al Qaeda now or in the future. If the administration is trying to convince the international community that such a war is an extension of our war against terrorism, it has simply failed in its attempt. No contrived link will do. We must either present indisputable evidence of a connection between Al Qaeda and the Iraqi government or defend our policy on other grounds. Meanwhile, our war preparations have inevitably blurred our focus, constricted our efforts, and reduced our resources for waging a legitimate campaign against terrorism. The demise of Saddam Hussein will not end terrorism. In fact, even the perception that war is imminent has galvanized anti-American sentiment throughout the Arab and Muslim world and will inevitably embolden terrorist groups to intensify their attacks against us, as Hamas has actually already threatened. To think that an escalation in terrorism will not be a consequence of our actions is delusionary, misleading, and irresponsibly dangerous.

If, in the end, it is necessary to use war to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his WMD, we must first: Strengthen the hands of the inspectors and provide them with useful intelligence that actually leads to some of his WMD. Second, as long as we invoke Mr. Hussein's defiance of the will of the international community, as President Bush and his lieutenants regularly do, we must be doubly careful not to disregard it ourselves, and so work with the UNSC until it authorizes the use of force. We were successful in acting in this way to ensure the passage of resolution 1441 when the odds were stacked against us, and we can do it again with patience and deliberation. But if we don't and then go to war basically alone, with a modicum of support from certain European allies and the grudging acquiescence of several nations in the Middle East, we will (1) justifiably be accused of making a charade of our respect for the will of the international community in whose name we are presumably acting, (2) we will have strengthened the perception that we have our own agenda (control of Iraqi oil), a perception that can dangerously erode our position of leadership, and finally, (3) we will have inflicted irreparable damage to the United Nations.

We must not allow this scenario to play itself out. We must remember that because he is under constant siege, Saddam Hussein is not an immediate threat: He has very little room to maneuver, with inspectors roaming his country, international pressure mounting, and the prospect of war looming ever closer. Time is on our side. While we must remain resolute, we must also be patient and give the UNSC the opportunity to come to the same conclusions, based on the report that the chief inspectors are to submit this week. We may just then possibly save ourselves from a disaster of our own making and in the process save the UNSC and the UN itself from becoming totally impotent.