All Writings
March 2, 2003

What A Mess!

I pray that the rosy picture of post-Saddam Iraq that President Bush painted in his February 26th speech to the American Enterprise Institute will come to pass, and none of the horrors war can precipitate will actually happen. I am afraid, though, that the president has engaged in too much wishful thinking perhaps at the expense of our ultimate national security and strategic interests.

Any war, a just war or otherwise, can have unpredictable and potentially disastrous consequences. But a war against Iraq without explicit approval by the United Nation Security Council (or at a minimum the unanimous endorsement of NATO, as was the case in Kosovo) does not only have the potential of disaster, but it carries the grave risk of offsetting the very order that can support America's role in future conflicts and as well sustain our moral leadership. Although an international consensus does not guarantee that the war will go smoothly, it will have an immediate and powerful effect during the post-war period should things go wrong. Indeed, things are likely to go wrong in a region as volatile as the Middle East and in a country plagued with factionalism like Iraq. By threatening that he will go to war with or without UNSC approval and not in the least reining in the eagerness that has characterized his pursuit of the war option, Mr. Bush has left many of our friends and allies baffled, questioning his motivation, and with serious doubts about his sincerity, motives, and capacity to lead. To be sure, the argument between the administration and the nations that for the present reject the war option, especially, France Germany, and Russia, is not whether Iraq should be disarmed; rather, it centers on whether we will have legitimately exhausted every option before embarking on disarming Iraq by force. That is, war against Iraq must meet one of the main criteria of a just war, namely that we enter into it with the staunch belief that all parties will in the aftermath be in a much better state than they were previously. Should the war go badly, there is little the administration can realistically do to prevent terrorism from intensifying against American targets at home and abroad. Such a war can also push the Israeli-Palestinian crisis to new and unimaginable level of violence; encourage North Korea to invade South Korea precisely because we are mired in Iraq; endanger the survival of the governments of several of our Arab allies, and spin our economy totally out of control because of global economic uncertainty and escalating oil prices.

Mr. Bush has done a wonderful job in creating a beautiful portrait of Iraq without Saddam: democracy mushrooming everywhere, peace and stability reigning in the region, human rights and prosperity for the masses who are presently disinherited, and terrorism will have received a mortal blow. No government official, however, has articulated what the actual costs of this risky venture are or what sorts of contingency plans we have to deal with so many potentially disastrous consequences should certain things go wrong as at least some will inevitably. Moreover, this administration has demonstrated no willingness to look for any other options that might meet our reluctant allies half way, while continuing to put insurmountable pressure on Saddam to disarm. For example, our government dismissed without seemingly even a cursory review, a Canadian proposal to establish a deadline (the end of March or mid April) for Saddam to come clean on his WMD. Instead, the administration has engaged in shameless horse-trading, pulling out every diplomatic and not-so diplomatic stop to persuade permanent and nonpermanent members of the SC to support the second resolution that will in effect declare Iraq in material breach of UN demands, making war inevitable. Some of the goodies the administration has offered to woo supporters include recognition of Bulgaria's market economy, which translates into a number of trade benefits for that nation. The heads-of-state of Angola, Guinea ,and Cameroon have been courted in a manner that they have never experienced since they become nations. The lavish smorgasbord offered has included trade benefits, help on commercial projects, financial aid, and a coveted invitation to the White House. Chile and Mexico are being cajoled with some unspecified concessions, while Israel hopes to receive a package estimated at $12 billion for refraining from retaliating should Saddam attack it. Meanwhile, though under intense public pressure from the administration, the Turkish Parliament has dealt it a major blow by denying our request to use parts of Turkey as a staging area for a northern front in the war. The Turkish government had already agreed to this in return for a package worth about $30 billion in grants and loan guarantees. Prime Minister Putin in turn was offered a repeal of the Jackson-Vanick amendment (largely symbolic but a source of irritation to him), tying Russia's preferential trade status to its citizens' right to emigrate. The US has also agreed to designate three Chechen groups as terrorist organizations and as such to freeze their assets in the United States as an additional enticement along with offering Russia a role in post-Saddam Iraq.

And as Saddam began to destroy his missiles and show other signs of cooperation, the administration raised the ante, now making his removal, in addition to the elimination of his WMD, a precondition to avert war. Meanwhile, the Arab League, meeting in Sharam El-Shiek, has declared its opposition to the war and demanded the inspectors be given more time and Saddam as well to fully comply with their requests. In sum, the administration's strategy has created an intensely acrimonious atmosphere in the UNSC and NATO, opened a tremendous rift with our allies in Europe and Asia, and aroused a groundswell of public opposition to the war in almost every corner of the globe.

Since the question for every member of the UNSC is not whether Mr. Hussein should be disarmed, but how and when, President Bush needs to take a deep breath and find a resolution that can be adopted unanimously by the UNSC. Otherwise, the current mess will continue to spin out of control. The consequences for the entire world community will not be pretty