You can't fault the Bush Administration for trying to time the completion of the U.N. business with the end of the military buildup for the action to oust Saddam. But the sound of the gears grinding against each other reminds me of the time I learned to drive an MGB. That old British gearbox wasn't synchronized for first gear, so getting going was the hard part. Once you got past first, it was easy. But pushing past France to get NATO to do its job was easy compared to what's coming in the U.N.
By patiently arguing and cajoling (with the help of a canny Scot, NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson) the President succeeded in getting NATO to do what its members signed up to do. In one beautiful weekend, NATO pushed France aside, made Germany cave in, and agreed to deploy AWACS aircraft, Patriot missiles and chem/bio detection gear to help Turkey protect itself. Turkey -- a NATO member -- had invoked the treaty and asked for help, but the French-German Axis of Weasels said they'd block NATO action because helping Turkey defend itself could look like an endorsement of Mr. Bush's plan to take out Saddam.
It may be that the President thinks this victory can be repeated in the U.N. That seems to be the only credible explanation for his decision to return there this week for the umpteenth resolution telling Saddam he really, really, really has to disarm. The President may hope he can save the U.N. from itself, and is spending precious time trying to do that. But the diplomatic victory in NATO is no cause to think that the U.N. will ever be better than it was when Daniel Patrick Moynihan called it a theater of the absurd. The President is subjecting us to this -- again -- as a favor to Britain's Tony Blair, whose political needs require it.
It's possible -- about a one-in-a-billion shot -- that the French will cave in, and not veto the new Security Council resolution we, the Brits and the Spanish proposed. If that happens, George Bush should go down in history as the greatest manipulator of nations since Metternich. The President will have performed the greatest feat of coalition-herding since Ike kept the Allies together from D-Day to the fall of Berlin. But it won't happen, because Jacques Chirac and his ilk believe France will glow in fortune and glory if it can prove itself powerful at our expense. France and the others will stall, and more defectors -- such as Mr. Bush's pal Vicente Fox of Mexico, whose Security Council vote went south on us last week -- will line up against us before the new resolution is voted on. It's more likely that we'll waste another month at the U.N. and then pull the resolution off the agenda because we won't have enough support to risk a French veto.
It's possible that U.N. action will take less than the eight weeks the Security Council took to pass Resolution 1441 last fall. But it's not bloody likely. Now that we've asked for U.N. action, we will have to be willing to do something Mr. Bush has threatened for months. He will have to tell the U.N. that its time has passed, and our coalition will act on our own schedule, and not tell them what it is.
By the next time Hans Blix reports to the Security Council on March 7, the Security Council will have had our new resolution for more than a week. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has said that our forces can act now, or any time the President orders them to do so. By March 7 everything will be in place. We need to stick with the schedule British Foreign Minister Jack Straw set, and finish the U.N. action within two weeks. Any longer, and the risks we will have to face will become much greater. To understand how we are dealing with those risks now, and how serious are the threats we face, you have to look at some unconventional weapons we're developing.
Some of our most effective underwater sentries -- our fastest, stealthiest swimmers -- are about to be sent to the Persian Gulf in waterlogged cages. On the long ride from California, their commanders will be with them, hosing them down and tossing them an occasional small fish. A bunch of sea lions -- trained to detect and attach nylon cables to unauthorized divers and sunken explosives -- are about to join the forces guarding naval vessels in ports in the Middle East. I can just hear the animal rights people screaming about the indignities the sea lions will suffer, and how we shouldn't expose them to danger. But these normally funny critters may save a lot of lives.
Using animals in war is nothing new. In WW2, some contemporary of Wernher von Braun (who, for reasons that will quickly be obvious, wasn't chosen for ol' Wernher's team) tried to create a smart bomb using cats. He thought that cats could guide bombs to targets near bodies of water. (Cats always land on their feet, right? Cats hate water, right?) So a couple of kitties were rigged with parachute harnesses that guided the bomb to where kitty tried to put his feet. After a few tries, someone figured out cats like flying less than they like water, and lost consciousness immediately upon being thrown out of an aircraft in flight.
Fortunately, the kamikaze kitty idea was shelved. We now have bombs that are much smarter than cats. And we also have the KFC. With no apology to the Colonel, many of our combat vehicles and infantry units are being outfitted to carry the Kuwait Field Chicken, and it's nothing to laugh about.
The dangers of chemical weapons are magnified a hundred times by the fact that it's very hard to tell you're under attack until someone keels over. A century ago, miners took caged canaries down into the coal mines because the natural gas -- which could explode as well as poison -- killed the birds before people started toppling. Operation KFC puts caged chickens on Humvees, trucks, tanks and among the troops to help detect chemical attacks. PETA may not like it, but it seems a good idea.
On the other hand, PETA may like it less that we are keeping all those chickens caged while we wait for the battle to begin. Will PETA demand the war begin sooner to make the animals suffer less? Maybe they should take it up with France. Saddam delendus est.