Last Thursday, the President finally went back to his basic playbook, and made the Iraqis and the U.N. offers he knows they must refuse. He told the U.N. it could either act or face its own irrelevance, and that the deadline for action will be measured in “days or weeks, not months or years.” It is a great shame that U.N. proceedings are becoming as useless as barroom debates, but asking that body to enforce its own resolutions and to “show some backbone” is almost certainly asking more than the Russians, Chinese, and Third World members will permit.
All through the Clinton years, America failed to act to enforce the 1991 U.N. resolutions requiring Saddam to give up his weapons of mass destruction and establishing international supervision of Iraq’s disarmament. The world has refused to recognize the fact that Saddam’s power — as he sees it, and as other Arabs see it — depends on his producing and being able to use those weapons. He cannot give them up and remain able to pursue his ambitions for power beyond the borders of Iraq. Since the President’s speech to the General Assembly, the diplomatic games began anew. On one team we have Dubya, Dick and Don trying to get the U.N. and Congress to act. On the other, we have Hosni Mubarak, Tariq Aziz, a gaggle of Saudi princes and Tom Daschle all trying to stall. Fortunately, the President’s principled stance will allow him to ignore the result if it goes the wrong way.
The President’s speech to the U.N. had barely ended when Iraqi foreign minister Aziz was on television rejecting the whole idea of resuming inspections. True to form, Aziz was busy strewing lies across the airwaves while accusing the President of doing the same. Aziz said that America was trying to impose conditions on any renewed inspections. What the President demanded — unlimited, no-notice inspections of any site in Iraq — is exactly what the 1991 cease-fire agreements and U.N. resolutions require. What Aziz demanded was a deal lifting economic sanctions and blocking U.S. military action as the price for resumed inspections.
When that didn’t fly, the Iraqis went to their first fallback position. There could be inspections, but only if they were done in a manner that allowed Iraq to retain its “sovereignty, dignity and legitimate rights.” This is precisely the framework of the earlier failed inspections, which let Iraq declare off-limits to inspectors its “sovereign” presidential palaces where much of the illegal weapons of mass destruction are researched, produced, and stockpiled. That one didn’t get its landing gear into the wheel wells before it was shot down.
But the diplo-games are far from over, and the players are hard at work. The Saudi and Egyptian foreign ministers said on Sunday that their nations would cooperate with a U.S.-led attack on Iraq if it were backed by the U.N. Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, told CNN that the Saudis would be “obliged to follow through” on U.N. resolutions. Saud held out a second carrot, saying that his nation would do everything it could to stabilize the price of oil in the event of such a war.
But the price for all this future cooperation is our waiting for and accepting U.N. authority and limits on military action. In this rather transparent move, the Saudis are trying to set Dubya up for the same play they pulled on Dad in ’91 so that we will have to stop short of removing Saddam. It’s a sucker play, and I’m betting that our guy won’t touch it.
The President said that he wanted U.N. action on the resolutions authorizing action — notice the plural — within a week. The French are advocating a two-resolution process. The first one would give the Iraqis time to allow the inspections required by the 1991 resolutions. This would take a few weeks. If the Iraqis allow the inspections, it would take months to organize them, and then more months for the Iraqis to thwart them thoroughly enough for anyone but us to complain. If the Iraqis don’t allow the inspections, then under the French plan the U.N. would debate a second resolution on the consequences. President Chirac was very unclear on what the second resolution would say. We haven’t even heard how the Chinese, Russians and others will try to vague-up any resolutions we propose. All of this fits perfectly with Tom Daschle’s plan to avoid a vote before the election.
The Democratic leadership, which nearly shouted itself hoarse over the past six months demanding a public debate on Iraq, is now doing everything it can to prevent the debate and any vote on action before the November elections. Senator Daschle has said that the Senate shouldn’t vote before the U.N. does. On “Meet the Press” last Sunday, Miz Hillary whined to Tim Russert that America is big enough to do more than one thing at a time, and we should be focusing on the economy now, not war. But it’s not the economy, stupid. We are at war, even if the Democrats won’t admit it.
The real reason for all the senatorial bloviating is that there are so many Senate Dems thinking about running for President in ’04 that they are really worried about this. Almost none of them — probably not even Hillary — will vote against the President on a war resolution. But those such as John Edwards of North Carolina and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota want to keep faith with the most liberal fringes of the Democratic Party, which means voting against action on Iraq. Much as they try to hide it, there’s a lot of the Jane Fonda/Bill Clinton 1960s left in these “new” Democrats. The President should force their hand.
The President should send to Congress a resolution supporting military action against Saddam Hussein at any time the President determines it essential to American national security. We may need to take action next month or next year, but it should be on our timetable, not the U.N.’s. Send up a resolution this week, Mr. President, and tell Congress to stay right here until they have voted on it. Saddam delendus est.