Iraq Vote Sets Stage for More Friction
Ivo H. Daalder and James
Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies
San Jose Mercury News
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Friday's United Nations
Security Council vote produced what once seemed unachievable: A tough new demand
by the world that Iraq allow unfettered inspections to ensure the complete
disarmament of its weapons of mass destruction.
The unanimous approval shifts
our attention from New York to Baghdad. What will Saddam Hussein do now that he
is faced with a choice between his weapons and his head? The decisions he makes
in the next few weeks could present President Bush with tough choices of his
The Security Council's vote
vindicated Bush's decision to change tack and take the Iraq issue to the United
Nations. Until his mid-September speech to the U.N. General Assembly, the
administration gave no indication of any interest in doing this. In January, for
example, Bush put the world on notice that Iraq and other members of the
"axis of evil" posed a "grave and growing danger"—one that
seemingly required a swift response. By June, the president had promulgated a
new doctrine that justified moving pre-emptively
against terrorists and
In August, Vice President
Dick Cheney pushed the argument further, essentially saying that the time for
diplomacy had passed. Warning that Iraq might acquire nuclear weapons
"fairly soon," Cheney criticized proposals to send U.N. inspectors
back to Iraq.
"Saddam has perfected
the game of cheat and retreat, and is very skilled in the art of denial and
deception," he said. "A return of inspectors would provide no
assurance whatsoever of his compliance with U.N. resolutions. On the contrary,
there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was
somehow 'back in his box.'"
Bush's decision to ignore the
vice president's advice and return to the United Nations reflected growing
unease, both abroad and at home, with U.S. policy toward Baghdad. America's
major allies, including Great Britain, all argued that bypassing New York would
provoke a backlash around the world against American unilateralism. Several
Middle Eastern countries pegged their willingness to aid a U.S. invasion of Iraq
to securing the Security Council's blessing.
At home, Congress pushed the
White House to go to the United Nations even as it authorized the president to
go to war, alone if necessary. Poll after poll revealed that the America public
felt even more strongly on the need to secure broad international support for a
second gulf war.
And key Republican
elders—including the most senior foreign-policy advisers to President Bush's
father—publicly questioned the wisdom of ignoring the United Nations.
Friday's Security Council
vote, however, does not bring the long-running Iraq saga to a close. Rather than
resolve differences between Washington and allied capitals—and within the
administration itself—the new resolution merely kicks them down the road. The
Security Council will soon grapple with whether Iraq is complying with the
resolution, and if not, whether the violations warrant more diplomatic pressure
Differences over how to
handle these questions are likely to emerge in the weeks to come, possibly with
an intensity that undoes much of the progress made in New York last week.
Reining in the U.S.
For the United States, the
issue on the table was Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. But for most other
countries, the issue was how to rein in a United States that looked bent on war
with Iraq no matter what the United Nations might decide. Skeptics at the United
Nations argued that the Bush administration was seeking a tougher U.N.
inspection regime designed more to provoke war than to force Iraqi disarmament.
The greatest unease arose
over Washington's insistence that the Security Council authorize member
countries to use "all necessary means" (U.N.-ese for war) if Iraq
failed to comply fully with the new resolution. France and Russia, backed by
China and most other Security Council members, wanted to prevent the United
States from going to war. They argued that the Security Council should wait to
see Iraq's response before deciding on a course of action.
After eight weeks of
intensive negotiations, the two sides struck a deal. Washington agreed to drop
the "all necessary means" provision. It also agreed that the Security
Council should consider what to do if Iraq refused to comply with the terms of
the new resolution. Importantly, though, the Bush administration left open the
possibility that it would go it alone in Iraq if the Security Council failed to
respond to Iraqi non-compliance.
In return for these
concessions, Washington gained formal backing for a tough new inspection regime.
Baghdad must accept the new regime within seven days, and must provide a
complete accounting of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile
programs 30 days after the resolution's passage. Fifteen days later, inspectors
will begin their task of verifying Iraq's declaration.
Once they are there, Iraq
must provide the inspectors "immediate, unimpeded, unconditional and
unrestricted access to any and all" facilities, people and documents they
might wish to see. They must report any violation (including denial of access)
back to the Security Council immediately—and they must report their overall
findings to the council 60 days after inspections begin.
Secretary of State Colin
Powell, who had pushed Bush to go to the United Nations, hailed the new
resolution as a major victory for the United States. Many of his administration
colleagues worry that it is more of a mistake in the making. They share Cheney's
fear that Saddam will use his cheat-and-retreat skills to frustrate new
Stakes high for Bush
At least for now, Bush's
decision to go the U.N. route is clearly paying off. The United States, with
critical support from Britain, has fashioned widespread international support
for a new, much tougher inspection regime in Iraq. If Baghdad defies the
Security Council, the war that follows will most likely enjoy much greater
legitimacy than if the United States had decided to go it alone.
But it is too early to
declare victory. Bush may have succeeded only in postponing the day of reckoning
on disputes with other Security Council members—and among his own advisers. As
the United Nations moves to implement its resolution, these differences probably
will re-emerge—sooner, perhaps, than many think.
Saddam could make Bush's job
easy by refusing to accept the new weapons-inspections regime. Should Saddam
openly spurn the United Nations, the president's advisers will likely unite in
recommending war. With U.N. credibility on the line, most member states will
probably follow suit, if reluctantly.
Conversely, Saddam could
decide to save his regime and come clean on his weapons-of-mass-destruction
programs. Having sold the new resolution as giving Saddam "a final
opportunity to comply," the U.S. administration would find it hard to
justify war if he did just that.
If the past is any guide,
though, Saddam is far more likely to respond by promising to cooperate while
actively blocking weapons inspections, as was his wont during the seven years
inspectors were in Iraq. That could easily put Washington at loggerheads with
much of the rest of the world, and many administration officials at odds with
Assume for instance that Iraq
makes the final declaration required by Resolution No. 1441, only to repeat its
previous claims that it does not possess weapons of mass destruction. The United
States and Britain will surely argue that this clearly violates the spirit of
the resolution's demands and is grounds for war. Other Security Council members,
however, are likely to argue that such a declaration makes it all the more
important to proceed with weapons inspections.
Or assume that Baghdad admits
to possessing weapons of mass destruction, but reports amounts short of what
U.S. and British intelligence believe it possesses. And what if Iraq's
cooperation is good but not perfect in subsequent inspections—if it grants
access in one case, temporarily denies it in other cases, but overall allows
inspectors to get on with the business on hand? Again, the Security
Council—and possibly the administration itself—will most likely divide over
how to respond.
Defining the threat
What makes such disputes
possible is fundamental disagreement over the problem that needs to be
For many in the Bush
administration, the problem is Saddam's government. It threatens the United
States and its allies. Only his removal will end the threat. But for much of the
rest of the world, and some in the administration such as Powell, the problem is
Saddam's weapons. From this perspective, inspections that eliminate much of his
arsenal and impede his ability to build new weapons may well be enough. A
defanged Saddam would remain an evil dictator, but one unable to cause harm
beyond his borders.
So Bush's diplomatic travails
have not ended. By going to the United Nations, he has won international backing
for a strong inspection regime. But he has yet to gain agreement on what degree
of Iraqi non-cooperation would justify war.
The president will have to
make his case by drawing clear red lines beyond which Saddam cannot be allowed
to go. These lines should emphasize America's interest in seeing Saddam
disarmed, and not leave the impression that Washington is interested only in
finding excuses for going to war.
Anything less would leave
others convinced that the eight weeks of negotiations in New York were little
more than political window dressing. And the grievances that other countries
feel toward the United States would only continue to grow.
© Copyright 2002, The
10, 2002 Bulatlat.com
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