Jewish World Review Feb. 10, 2003 / 8 Adar I, 5763
Play up, play up
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | "The game is over," he says. Au contraire, Mr. President, it has just begun, and, "there are miles to go before the fat lady sleeps", as a German correspondent put it to me. (He works for Die Zeit, I think he was being droll.) And the enemies of the United States are likely to be a lot more playful in the next two weeks, than they have been until now.
For indeed, the real game is now beginning. On Wednesday, Colin Powell in effect concluded the pre-game warm-up. And coach Donald Rumsfeld was in Europe, reviewing his starting line-up -- having ordered the 101st Airborne and a fifth aircraft carrier group into position in the Gulf, the last major call-up. I suspect, from the scale of the previous U.S. deployment (perhaps 150,000 in uniform and equipped within striking distance of Baghdad now) that the latest assignments merely deepen the bullpen.
The Americans have, at last count, 18 European nations "dressed" -- including Britain, Spain, Italy, Denmark and every country from Estonia to Bulgaria that NATO hasn't bombed in the last five years. More to the point, they have all their bases present and accounted for, strung along the Gulf, and Turkey finally openly receiving U.S. forces to Iraq's north.
On Saddam's side, batting for "Old Europe", we still have France, Germany, les Belges, Luxembourgeoises, maybe Austria, and lest we forget, the Greeks. This "Kingdom of the Franks" plus outriders are, of course, not really on Saddam's side, according to them. But it would be hard to describe even what THEY think they are doing, now that war is imminent.
Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, was heard by reporters of the daily Le Parisien saying, "In the hour of truth, Paris won't let down the Americans," as he left the United Nations after listening to Colin Powell. Well, they had better get their accordion re-tuned promptly.
And after what happened to Gerhard Schroeder's party in the state elections of Hesse and his native Lower Saxony, I suspect even Mr. Rumsfeld feels a little sorry for him. Add that to the mockery he's brought upon himself for e.g. suing a journalist who claimed that he dyes his hair, and we can stop thinking about the would-be Iron Chancellor.
Something quite remarkable has happened here, in very short order. As part of a power-grab within the European Union, Messrs. Chirac and Schroeder seized the moment of a surge in anti-Americanism. They thought they could use this for fuel while recovering the traditional French-German position at the EU's heart.
Within days, they had united most of the continent against them, and isolated themselves. The "New Europe" -- containing the many new democracies of the central and eastern zones, has suddenly come of age. Their champion within Europe will be Britain, creating its own new special relationships with Italy and Spain. And this "New Europe" is unambiguously committed in its turn to the NATO relationship with the United States.
"The rat that roared" -- this was Christopher Hitchens's unflattering description of Jacques Chirac, a little man even as mayor of Paris, "who had to run for re-election last year in order to preserve his immunity from prosecution, on charges of corruption that were grave". This same M. Chirac -- and the reader may suspect I am enjoying this -- has indeed finally accomplished something. He appears to have accidentally strangled his own monstrous baby at birth. He revealed the arrogance of the latest Franco-German project a little too soon, and set off alarms across the rest of the continent. If Herr Schroeder's political fate is anything to judge by, we might even look forward to a "New Germany" and a "New France", in the course of time.
But it is not yet time to party. Europe is no longer a problem, nor really Russia, nor China-- the other veto powers in the Security Council. Nor is the Security Council any longer relevant, after the reception to Mr. Powell's presentation Wednesday.
As President Bush said explicitly yesterday, "this is the defining moment" -- for them. A Security Council unable to act upon its own unanimous resolution on an urgent question of war and peace, is no longer relevant to international affairs. It has reduced itself to the stature and significance of the "World Federalists" -- a social club for people who can't get dates.
The cameras may now focus directly on Iraq, with a sidebar displaying parallel events, not at the U.N., but in Korea. It is the "game" we've been awaiting for the last year, and it is going to be played for keeps.
Looking ahead to the next fortnight, we should therefore be expecting surprises. We can be almost certain what two of these surprises will be.
The first is a dramatic last-minute concession to Hans Blix and Mohammad el-Baradei. This is what Saddam Hussein has always done with his back to the wall, and believe me there are people who are still impressed. They no longer include any members of the U.S. administration, so the trick is not going to work. Saddam will back down on spy-plane overflights (now that he has had the time to prepare for them), or offer up more scientists to be interviewed (privately, in Iraq, in bugged rooms), or even make a deathbed confession about certain hidden stockpiles (a small fraction of what he owns), in the hope of turning the tables on Mr. Powell. But that will no more sway the members of the "alliance of the willing" who are poised to strike him down, than Mr. Powell's chapter-and-verse presentation swayed Schroeder or Chirac. It will merely make whistling noises as it passes through the empty spaces between the ears of the liberal media.
The second is a major scare from North Korea. There may be a missile test (perhaps another over Japan), or a nasty incident at the DMZ (with GI casualties), or even a detectable underground nuclear explosion, I should think before next Friday. I would not be surprised to learn, eventually, that the regime of Kim Il-Jong was actually paid by Saddam in cold hard currency to perform such a stunt -- for it has a long track record of doing anything for cash. Those who think the present wild North Korean bellicosity is unconnected to developments in Iraq will be proved na´ve.
A third possible surprise -- more likely from the week after -- will be a sudden missile attack or other attempt at a large-scale terrorist hit on Israel, directed from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. This is a very substantial wild card, for whether its president, Bashir Assad, fully understands it or not, allowing this to happen would open a second front between Syria and Israel, either just before or after U.S. special forces have taken positions around Baghdad.
For as the Americans know, from both satellite and defectors, Saddam has been transferring some of his most lethal weaponry in advance of the inspectors through Syria to Lebanon. I find it hard to imagine this won't be consequential.
All media eyes will be fixed, Valentine's Day, Friday, on what must
prove the final Iraq inspections report. Regardless what Messrs. Blix and
el-Baradei say, the British are preparing to table what will amount to a war
resolution in the Security Council on Monday the 17th. And regardless of its
fate, we shall be waiting for the flash, from that day forward.
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01/30/02: No ambiguity