Along the Tracks

Monday, March 10, 2003

I hate to say it, but ...

I largely agree with Democratic Senator Joe Biden’s analysis in today’s Washington Post. While the Bush administration has been dead-on on its policy toward Iraq, and even, for the most part, in the implementation of that policy, its diplomacy has been shaky - not so much the work of Powell, Rice, and the president himself, but some of the shoot-from-the-hips comments we’ve heard from Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle (not part of the administration, but closely allied) and a few others.

Let me make this clear: I’m not saying these people are wrong when they point out problems with France, Germany, etc., I’m just saying that, as part of an administration seeking a united diplomatic front against Iraq, their statements tend to undercut Bush’s efforts. France in particular has been bone-headedly wrong in this whole charade, first by voting for 1441 when it apparently had no intention to follow through on the clear language of the resolution, then when it ambushed Colin Powell at the U.N. on Iraq policy, just before Blix’s first report in late January. The administration, with the help of America’s allies in Europe and around the world, was well on its way to isolating the French position (remember the “European Eight” and the “Vilnius Ten” letters?), but side comments from certain administration officials (who Biden leaves unnamed in his op-ed but who I have named above, and in particular, Rumsfeld) helped the French and their German tag-alongs make the argument that the Bush administration was “bullying” other countries, and solidified their opposition and resolve.

These guys - again, particularly Rumsfeld - are quick-witted and sharp as a knife when they toss out their comments. I’m just saying they aren’t necessarily very helpful.

I’m not sure about Biden’s closing suggestion concerning a compromise resolution, perhaps based on the Canada proposal, setting a March 30 deadline with stringent, specific disarmament guidelines. As Condi Rice eloquently stated on the talk shows yesterday, Saddam Hussein could come out and announce a change of heart right now, produce the documents the inspectors have requested, lead the inspectors to hidden sites and tell them they will bring the thousands of chemical-filled warheads to a specific location for cataloging and destruction. He could probably have all the stuff we know about at least placed under U.N. guard by the March 17 deadline in the current resolution - and let’s face it, if he did so, the U.S. would be bound to honor the inspectors’ assessment, at least until it could be proven that he was still hiding some weapons. War would, at least for a substantial period of time, be averted.

Why March 30 is better than March 17 is tough to see, other than the somewhat ephemeral hope that France will change its mind and vote for (or at least abstain on) the resolution. France has stated flatly it will not allow any resolution which automatically and explicitly authorizes military operations to pass. That’s precisely what a deadline, any deadline, does. Anything less than that is of no value to the U.S., Great Britain or our other allies. Thus, an impasse.

The worst facet of such a delay involves military realities. A war started so late poses a real danger of stretching into the spring heat of the desert, making heavy chem-bio suits extremely difficult for our soldiers to wear, slowing the operation and endangering both our troops and the civilians caught in Saddam’s brutal chemical crosswinds. Another consideration must be the extra time Saddam would have to place terrorist allies in position to strike the U.S. and friends. The on-the-ground effect of any delay is to stretch out the war and kill more people.

Thus, although Biden’s criticism is astute, his remedy is unconvincing. At present, I believe, all the Bush administration can do is work France, attempting to bring them to the realization that their long-term security interests are precisely aligned with the U.S., and this effort to resolve a 12-year problem will benefit them far more than any short term gain as a U.S. “counterweight.” This is apparently the course being followed right now, and in the end, it may yet succeed.

If Rummy will just stay away from the microphones for a week .....

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