March 20, 2003

No Protest Today

Anti-war demonstrations are planned today for a number of U.S. cities, Pittsburgh among them. With war in Iraq having started last night, I am forced to make a decision whether to attend. In fact, I plan to stay home. At the risk of feeling like part of the faceless majority that rallies reflexively to the nation’s support in response to any military action, I cannot hope for anything but a quick and decisive American victory in Iraq. I am not happy about how we got here, driven by President Bush’s disingenuous arguments and inept diplomacy, but Saddam Hussein is indeed a danger to his people, his neighbors, and—although this is a bit of a stretch—to us.

I was never unconditionally opposed to attacking Iraq, but I did believe that it would have been better for our relations with other nations and for our treasury to do so with broad international support. I still cannot understand the President’s impatience. Whether or not inspections would ever have succeed in totally disarming Iraq—and it is still unclear how much disarmament is necessary—inspections were clearly inhibiting Iraq’s weapon-building ability and decreasing its weapon inventory, presumably degrading its ability to wage war in the process. Continued inspections seemed to have the potential to make any eventual war easier for us and our allies, while providing more opportunities to rally international support. The administration may have been discouraged, however, by the fact that its diplomatic efforts seemed to create less world support, rather than more.

For now, we must hope for the best: (1) a quick victory that removes Saddam Hussein and avoids large losses of life or assets, American or Iraqi; (2) a brief American occupation, followed quickly by the establishment of a process to create a replacement government, carried out under U.N. supervision; (3) ongoing technical and financial support to Iraq, supplied both by the U.S. and by the international community, delivered in a way that does not threaten Iraq’s neighbors; and (4) establishment of an international understanding that there is no blanket right of nations to attack other nations on the mere threat of a threat. We can hardly hope for more. I’d rather not think about the worst that could happen.

March 18, 2003

Thanks, But No Thanks

Not surprisingly, Iraq seems to have rejected out of hand our demand that it give us its country. Praying for peace seems about the only alternative left to anyone who would like us to avoid war.

In his prime-time speech last night, President Bush’s justification for military action in Iraq was, as usual, a little garbled. Most straightforward and compelling was the argument that Iraq, having lost the Gulf War, agreed to co-operate in its disarmament. It is still true, however, that its lack of co-operation in this enterprise is more evident than its lack of substantive disarmament. Other allegations, while true, are not conventional casus belli, that Iraq has mistreated its people, for example. More worrisome, though still a novel justification for war, is the suggestion that Iraq might, for whatever reasons, supply weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. The President has clearly failed to sell this rationale to the world, in part, I think, because the case is less compelling with respect to Iraq than it is with regard to North Korea.

Although the President tried to explain why we are about to attack a country that has not, by conventional reckoning, attacked or provoked us, he did not address the more interesting question of why we stand nearly alone in this enterprise, in stark contrast to our situation before the Gulf War, in which we had broad international support. True, we were thwarted by a self-absorbed and self-important French government, but the French, who have been a diplomatic thorn in our side for many years, were responding to perceived American weakness and ineptitude. The administration, although it was dragged kicking and screaming into engaging in a diplomatic initiative to convince the Security Council to sanction the use of force against Iraq, acted as though its heart was not really in the effort. High-ranking officials were not flying around the world making its case. Whatever arm-twisting there may have been was, at best, ineffectual. Even President Bush’s touted rapport with President Vicente Fox of Mexico was insufficient to rally Mexico to our side in the Security Council.

The administration’s diplomatic skills aside, why should we have expected the outcome to be otherwise? President Bush made it quite clear to the world that a Security Council vote would have no effect on our decision to attack Iraq—we were going to do what we were going to do, whatever the U.N. thought about it. Why should Security Counil members put themselves on the hook for supporting what they considered a bad idea. And, even if they supported U.S. action, what incentive was there for broad military and financial support, given that the U.S. was willing to do the job for the world for free? We only weakly hinted that a failure of the U.N. to back its own demands would be damaging to the diplomatic mechanisms constructed since World War II. One suspects, of course, that the administration has no fondness for the U.N. anyway, and may be just as happy to have an excuse to exercise our military power without international constraints. Is there any doubt why the nations of the world told us thanks, but no thanks?