Jewish World Review Oct. 30, 2002 /24 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

David Warren

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Material breach | The United States is about to force a vote in the U.N. Security Council on its Iraq resolution. It is by no means clear that this resolution will pass. Negotiations over it among the five veto powers on the Council have now gone on an unconscionable length of time: an attempt to square a circle that has not succeeded. While the details are murky, it appears that the Russians, through a combination of hard experience in a Moscow theatre, and secret U.S. recognition of several Russian interests in Iraq, have been persuaded not to employ their veto. The Chinese were expected from the beginning to stand aside. It appears now to be down to the U.S. v. France -- an unhappy spat over very large stakes between two allied democracies, but there you have it.

The issue comes down to just two words. The American resolution finds Saddam Hussein's regime to be in "material breach" of previous U.N. resolutions, which demanded the opening of the whole territory of Iraq to unimpeded weapons inspections. Saddam agreed to these, in order to preserve his regime after the Gulf War in 1991. They were resolutions under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter -- in other words, fully binding. As opposed, for instance, to the myriad anti-Israel resolutions brought by Arab states under Chapter VI -- which provides for mere talk, or in the words of the Charter, "negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and judicial settlement".

These two words -- "material breach" -- are as fully loaded as any in diplomacy and international law. If the Security Council acknowledges that Saddam is in "material breach" of Chapter VII resolutions -- which he obviously is -- then the U.S. may cite the authority of the U.N. to enforce Iraqi compliance, by all means necessary. If, alternatively, the words were removed from the resolution -- at French and perhaps still Russian insistence -- then the U.S. has no pretext, at least under the U.N. Charter.

The French describe the two words as "hidden trigger language". This is false: it is open trigger language, and if it is removed there is no point to the resolution. If, for sake of argument, Mr. Bush were to agree to remove those two words, in order to "get a deal" with the French, I for one would lose confidence in him, along with most of his allies, and I can count on Mr. Bush at least to know this

It would anyway be necessary to rewrite history to achieve the latter end -- to take the sting out of the tail, as it were. And what the alternative French resolution, now presented to the Security Council, proposes to do is, implicitly, to rewrite this history.

(The U.S. resolution, having been first presented, must be voted on first.)

Iraq would be effectively forgiven for all past violations, and presented with a fresh opportunity to meet much diminished standards for inspections. A reporting provision would be set up, to prevent member states from taking any action against Saddam unless and until the molasses of the U.N. bureaucracy has had its chance to work. The effect would be to turn Chapter VII violations into Chapter VI violations -- to let Saddam off any plausible threat of consequences for his intransigence, either forever or until he has deployed nuclear weapons, whichever comes first.

I am besieged by readers asking me the question, "When, oh when, are the Americans going into Iraq?" Let me just give the answer once and to all.

President Bush's style -- the reflection of the man himself -- is to be fairly louche on deadlines. Nor does he give ultimatums, if there is any alternative. That would be shouting, and neither he, nor anyone in his administration, shouts. As I have written before, the constraints that are observed are the real time constraints, not the artificial ones; every possible alternative is kept open to the last minute. To do otherwise is to be trapped in your own verbiage; and I would say that even Mr. Bush's essays in unsyntactical English help to keep his options open.

Like President Reagan before him, he keeps his eye on the main issues, and delegates minor dependant ones. Like Mr. Reagan's secretary of state, George Schultz, he is looking ahead about five years, and to what may be practically achievable on such a reasonably ambitious time scale. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, are also five-year people: a much longer period and you are no longer engaging with reality, a much shorter and you are being controlled by events. Few of their critics see beyond the moment; which is all very well if you have no responsibilities.

In this case, the short-term goal is to change the regime and nature of Iraq, which must be done before this winter is out. If necessary, direct military action could be delayed until about February, or could come as soon as next week; the U.S. has been in a position to strike at short notice since early August. Early December would be the best balance of weather conditions, and civil and military preparedness. The "war" itself will be fast and furious, it will not require months, though as in Afghanistan, the mopping up may go on longer. But this mopping up will be done from inside, not outside, Baghdad.

Three more things to bear constantly in mind: 1. the longer term intention, 2. the politics in the interim, and 3. the need to exploit opportunities as they arise.

First, beyond Iraq, there is Iran, and Syria; Saudi Arabia and the funding of international networks of terror and Islamist proselytizing; the problem of Israel and its neighbours; problems presented by lesser rogue Arab states; the North Korean threat; China's threat to Taiwan; and last but not least, the erection of a new system of international order to replace the one that has fallen apart. Dealing with Saddam Hussein is urgent, but it is also part of these other dealings, and the change of regime in Iraq must serve other purposes down the road, not get in their way.

Second, "there is a tide in the affairs of men", and Mr. Bush cannot afford to disregard either national or world public opinion -- which does not mean he need be guided by it.

He must at all times carry a sufficient number of allies with him, domestically and internationally, to carry on his campaign. If he neglects this political and diplomatic base, both he and the campaign are over. For it's not enough just to fight the right enemy, you also have to defeat him. Unfortunately, in the last couple of weeks, by actively campaigning in the mid-term elections to press the advantage of Republican Congressional candidates, Mr. Bush temporarily abandoned his "presidential" posture at a critical moment in the Iraq stand-off, lost precious steam, and may be about to receive a political beating for it on the home front. That, for sure, was a Bush mistake; though one from which he can recover.

Third, the need to exploit opportunity. There are many ways to get to the same destination. Several months ago it appeared that removing the Saddam regime would require physical force, whereas the ayatollah regime in neighbouring Iran was coming down of its own exhausted weight under the pressure provided by the Iranian population.

It now appears that the Iraqi regime may itself be crumbling, under the pressure of U.S. and British threats. There have been unprecedented demonstrations against Saddam in Baghdad itself, and suddenly Iraqi citizens are even approaching foreign news reporters to explain what's going on. The U.S. mission in Iraq may have to be re-oriented at very short notice; as it would be if Saddam were assassinated. The U.S. would still have to go in to sort out the mess, but more immediately and less aggressively. It must be prepared at all times for other, less predictable, breaking developments.

Similarly, recent Islamist terror hits on Bali and Moscow have opened the field to much higher levels of co-operation between Russia, Indonesia, and the U.S. (Australia, too; but the Australians were already as fully "onside" with the Americans as were the British). The sad reality is that the U.S.-led coalition must wait for countries one after another to have their own "9/11 experiences", before they will remove obstacles to the hot pursuit of Islamists across international frontiers. The coalition must meanwhile sneak around these remaining obstacles -- the countries still living in the fairy tale of the old world order -- in glass slippers.

Now, how is the first part of this article connected to the second part? What is the "real deadline" on Iraq, or to wind forward to the better question, Why Iraq first, when there are so many other "lions in the road"? (North Korea, for instance, which yesterday declared to Japan that it had no intention of abandoning its own nuclear weapons program.)

The answer is, because, in addition to its threat to deploy genocidal weapons, and its role in sponsoring, sheltering and fomenting terrorism both against Israel and farther afield, the Iraqi regime presents a special case. It is already in defiance of Chapter VII resolutions, and so it uniquely presents an opportunity for remedy through the auspices of the U.N. If the U.N. is going to have any role at all in the rest of the "war against terror", it must prove its resolve and ability to act in this case.

If, alternatively, the U.N. fails to vindicate its own resolutions on Iraq, the whole organization is as dead as the League of Nations before it. In that case, President Bush will not have destroyed it, it will have destroyed itself, and the U.S. and its allies can get on with the business of walking over it.

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

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