Jewish World Review Feb. 6, 2003 / 4 Adar I, 5763

David Warren

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The Powelling


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council yesterday was a waste of time and energy. While his show was effective enough in itself, and met the demanding criterion of entertainment, by holding its audience, no one was swayed by it one way or the other. It is impossible to gauge the effect on world public opinion, which is anyway impossible to measure given contextual differences from country to country. But my gut sense is that the effect on opinion outside the United States will be slight.

Mr. Powell showed irrefutable evidence, in satellite imagery, intercepted radio and telephone conversations, and the repeated testimony of recent Iraqi defectors. He demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that Iraq is in flagrant breach of each of the three requirements of Resolution 1441.

Iraq has failed: 1. to declare promptly and truthfully the extent of its illegal weapons programmes and stocks, 2. to co-operate fully and candidly with U.N. inspectors, and 3. to publicly and verifiably disarm. In addition to which, Mr. Powell hinted at the existence of much broader material demonstrating active co-operation between the Iraqi government and agents of Al Qaeda and other international terrorist organizations.

Punches were nevertheless pulled. The media have avoided explaining to the general public the constraints under which the Bush administration must operate, in providing such evidence. By doing so they expose war targets, they provide not only Saddam but other evil regimes with the means to assess U.S. intelligence sources, which in turn means putting the lives of brave people at additional risk. The publication of sensitive security material moreover creates a legal nightmare, for much of the declassification is itself prevented by U.S. law. The President himself could be open to legal challenge in authorizing such disclosures.

To go to this trouble and risk for nothing raises further questions of judgement. The calculation was that only by providing such evidence would the U.S. be able to win the support of hesitant allies. By this morning, it should be clear that it was a miscalculation. It was wrong to take critics demanding proof at their word.

In this sense, it is the final failure of the course of action Colin Powell himself recommended within the Bush administration. As we now know, it was he who successfully argued, over strong objections from Donald Rumsfeld, and others, that the U.N. route was worth taking. President Bush decided on balance that it was worth giving "collective security" a chance.

It is more complicated than that, for Mr. Powell's argument did not win on its merits alone. It has become increasingly clear that there were hard logistical reasons for the U.S. to delay an attack on Saddam. The chief problem here has been the need to step up the supply of a new generation of ordnance. Pentagon budget cuts under the last administration had left the U.S. military with short inventories of a wide range of weapons, from cruise missiles to "smart bomb" kits, and worse, without contingency plans to suddenly step up production. (An attack with much more plentiful stocks of older, less accurate ordnance would result in much more "collateral damage"; this could only serve as a fallback position.)

The public transformation of Secretary Powell himself from "dove" into "hawk" is a direct consequence of his success in arguing for the involvement of the U.N. It was his bright idea, and thus President Bush left him to salvage it.

At this moment, I doubt there is anyone in the Bush administration as angry with the French, in particular, as Mr. Powell is. It is widely understood that in return for the U.S. concession of a long and enervating horsetrade over Resolution 1441, the French undertook to support the U.S. decisively later on. The key date was Jan. 27th. If Hans Blix was unable to assure the Security Council that Saddam was disarming by this date -- and he wasn't -- then France would help lead the cry for action. President Chirac is believed to have given personal assurances of this to Mr. Powell, in return for specific amendments to the Resolution which the U.S. was resisting. Mr. Powell in turn assured President Bush that this difficult NATO ally would be finally onside. But the political situation changed, Mr. Chirac subsequently came to another arrangment with the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, and, to put a fine point on it, Mr. Powell was betrayed.

The response to this from elsewhere in the Bush administration is much less surprised. They had a low opinion of the French to start with. The line that is now going around Washington is that of a former undersecretary of defence, who observed, "Going to war without the French is like going deerhunting without an accordion."

Ditto other erstwhile allies who will be missing from the "coalition of the willing" that removes Saddam -- it now appears towards the Ides of March, unless Saddam strikes sooner.

For as delegates to the Security Council showed in their responses to Mr. Powell's presentation -- especially China, France, Russia -- they simply are not interested in proof. Indeed, nothing that Mr. Powell said would have come as a revelation to anyone who had been reading pro-American media, including the writings of yours truly. The satellite pictures we had not seen, nor the specific transcripts of conversations, but most of us were aware of every item on Mr. Powell's list. It is not as if a general understanding of Saddam's deceits and perfidies were previously unavailable.

This is why the publication of actual proof is so anticlimactic. The people demanding proof were not going to change their positions after it was supplied. They predictably shifted the criteria for action another step higher, so that now they demand even more U.N. inspectors.

They want peace, and are willing to pay any price for it. The French and Germans -- who have incidentally been exposed as Saddam Hussein's most copious suppliers of ingredients and technology for biological and chemical weaponry (with the Russians in third place) -- have openly stated that war is the worst thing that can happen. From this position, any kind of sell-out or betrayal is preferable to the use of physical force.

As wise old Alistair Cooke said on Britain's BBC, we're hearing an old song from the 1930s. "Most historical analogies are false because, however strikingly similar a new situation may be to an old one, there's usually one element that is different and it turns out to be the crucial one. It may well be so here. All I know is that all the voices of the thirties are echoing through 2003."

This is the fact. The appeasers of Saddam have used the same arguments and the same language as the appeasers of Hitler. They have relied on the same fundamental reasoning -- that there is no price too high, if we can win "peace in our time" -- and under the same inspiration, a pant-wetting fear. They want to believe, in the face of any evidence that is presented to them, that security can be obtained by some kind of negotiation. They chant all the old 'thirties mantras about "collective security", and invoke the United Nations as their grandfathers invoked the League of Nations.

An element that is different is George W. Bush. In my judgement, though he may not be the equal in mind and spirit of Winston Churchill -- the one man growling the night Prime Minister Chamberlain came home with the Munich treaty, when all Europe cheered -- he is proving a worthy successor. A Clinton, a Gore, indeed any "normal" politician in President Bush's shoes would have noted all the alarm bells ringing, and have done what Chamberlain did. They would "go the extra mile" to Munich, or in this case Baghdad.

And just as the shame of Germany is no longer acknowledged by a later generation of Germans, the shame of Munich is no longer acknowledged by our peace constituency. Only men as old as Alistair Cooke can still remember.

Another element that is different is that, today, we face not one Hitler, but an assemblage of them, so that each can be used as an excuse for avoiding confrontation with each other. We cannot deal with Iraq, because we must more urgently deal with North Korea; or vice versa once interest is shown in Pyongyang. The U.S. and its allies are by necessity caught up in a thankless game of "monkey in the middle" -- to which the only possible response can be to eliminate the monkeys, one by one.

Nobody, or at least nobody who is properly informed, said it was going to be easy. But it is going to be done, and as would now appear, done over the dead body of the United Nations.

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JWR contributor David Warren is a Columnist for the Ottawa Citizen. Comment by clicking here.

01/30/02: No ambiguity
12/05/02: A farce
11/13/02: A game of chess
10/30/02: Material breach
10/21/02: Armed & dangerous
09/11/02: The enemy within
08/21/02: Bush v. world
08/06/02: Has Sharon gone 'wobbly'?
07/24/02: Evil Sharon
06/19/02: The end is nigh
06/17/02: Those darn American imperialists!

© 2002, Ottawa Citizen