Sep 26th 2002 From The Economist Global Agenda
President George Bush has again challenged the United Nations to enforce its resolutions ordering Iraq to disarm. But American efforts to push through a toughly worded new UN resolution are still meeting resistance from some members of the Security Council, and Mr Bush is now also facing some criticism at home
HE HAS said it before, but, perhaps fearing that he was not loud or explicit enough, President George Bush has said it again: “We will not let the world’s worst leader,” he told a Republican Party meeting, “threaten us, blackmail us, or hurt us with the world's worst weapons.” His latest sabre-rattling towards Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, came as American diplomats were trying to persuade other members of the United Nations Security Council to back a new resolution. It would demand Iraq accept back UN weapons inspectors, armed with strong intrusive powers, and that threaten dire consequences if Iraq failed to comply.
As part of the same drive to rally world opinion against Iraq, some of Mr Bush’s colleagues have been renewing allegations about links between Mr Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Condoleezza Rice, Mr Bush’s national security adviser, accused Iraq of providing al-Qaeda with training in chemical-weapons development. Donald Rumsfeld, attending a NATO meeting in Warsaw, showed other alliance defence ministers some of America’s evidence of Iraqi links with the terrorist group.
Not all seem to have been convinced, however, and multilateral efforts against Iraq remain focused not on its alleged terrorist connections, but on its programmes to maintain and develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Iraq denies it has any, and has offered to allow UN inspectors back into the country for the first time since 1998. This week, General Amer al-Saadi, the senior adviser on weapons to Mr Hussein even said Iraq was ready to give them “unfettered access”. Like previous offers, this was dismissed out of hand by the White House.
It came as part of its blanket denial of accusations contained in a British government report published on September 24th. The document sets out the evidence for claims that Iraq’s WMD programmes pose a serious and imminent threat. It has failed to sway all sceptics. They argue that much of the information in it was old; that much of the dossier was in the form of unsubstantiated assertion attributed to “intelligence”; and that the assessment of the seriousness of the threat relies on reading Mr Hussein's mind.
Few doubt, however, that Iraq’s claim to have no weapons of mass destruction whatsoever is an outrageous lie. The dossier documents its past manufacture of chemical and biological weapons and its failure to account for them all. It says Iraq has some weapons that could be readied for use within 45 minutes. It also details Iraq's efforts to build a nuclear bomb. To that end, it says, Iraq has sought to acquire uranium from Africa and is trying to develop the means to enrich it into weapons-grade material. It also estimates Iraq has some 20 missiles capable of carrying biological and chemical warheads and of reaching, for example, Israel. It also describes Mr Hussein’s elaborate attempts to conceal his weapons programmes, including the development of mobile biological-weapons laboratories.
The document plays an important part in the battle waged by Tony Blair, Britain’s prime minister, to win over public opinion at home. It was published just in time for a specially-convened parliamentary debate on Iraq, which saw a revolt by some 50 members of his own Labour Party. Left-wing Labour politicians accuse Mr Blair of being too willing to toe an American line on Iraq.
However, there are important differences between Britain and America, which has an explicit policy of “regime change”. British government spokesmen insist on the importance of a UN mandate for military action, and on the narrow goal of disarming Iraq. “Regime change” may, they say, be the only means of achieving this; and it may be a highly desirable consequence of doing so. But it is not an end in itself.
In Britain, as in many other countries, popular and political support for military action against Iraq will come much more easily if any war is authorised by a new Security Council resolution. Britain and America insist that such a resolution is essential despite Iraq’s “unconditional” offer to accept inspection, which they dismiss as a tactical ploy.
Undeterred by Iraq’s diplomatic manoeuvring, America has been laying the political groundwork for a war. Last week, Mr Bush submitted a draft resolution to Congress, which will grant him the authority to use all means “including force” to enforce Iraqi compliance with its international obligations.
But Mr Bush is now also facing some criticism at home that is feeding in to the Congressional debate. Al Gore, whom he defeated in the presidential elections in 2000, has accused him of squandering the reservoir of international goodwill America enjoyed after the September 11th attacks. He has also been attacked in an emotional outburst by Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader of the majority in the Senate, who described as “outrageous” comments by Mr Bush that the Senate was “not interested in the security of the American people”.
The public debate has been accompanied by fresh speculation about the military options available to Mr Bush if he decides to topple Mr Hussein by force. A few months ago, press reports detailing various military options were brushed aside by administration officials as overheated rumour-mongering. Now, however, although they insist that Mr Bush has taken no decision about military action, they do not deny that plans are on his desk. There are also clear signs of an American military build-up in the region. Several thousand marines and ground forces are pouring into Kuwait. Like other parts of the build-up, this is presented as part of a regular exercise. But officials acknowledge that the troops and armour would play a role if it comes to a real war.
Judging by what foreign statesmen are saying in public, at least, there remains little international support for such a war. Of the five permanent members of the Security Council, only Britain is wholeheartedly behind the American position. The other three?China, France, and, especially, Russia?are complicating the passage of a fresh resolution. Russia argues that the central issue is the return of weapons inspectors for the first time since 1998, and that, since Iraq has now said it will accept this, no new resolution is necessary. The foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, has spoken scathingly of what he called the “great propaganda furore” sparked by the British dossier.
Russia may be holding out for American concessions to its own concerns, but its view of the importance of weapons inspection is shared by many other countries, and is at the root of America’s difficulties. American officials are dubious about the value of inspections, which Mr Rumsfeld has said “don’t work” unless there is a “co-operative government”.
But also, as American officials keep saying, their policy is one of “regime change” in Iraq, which they argue, presents a unique danger. However, the national security strategy that Mr Bush presented to Congress on September 20th made explicit provision for America to take “pre-emptive”, unilateral action against any such regime that presents so serious a perceived threat to its security. This is deeply worrying even to some of Iraq’s bitterest enemies. Many undemocratic regimes with poor relations with America fear its implications for them. Even some of America’s allies worry that other countries might use American policy as justification for pre-emptive strikes of their own.