War Diary: Thursday, Jan. 23, 2003

Stratfor Intelligence
Jan 24, 2003

On Thursday, Jan. 23, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said President Saddam Hussein refuses to accept exile in order to avert war. In an interview with ABC News, Aziz said, "Saddam Hussein is the leader of Iraq. He was born in Iraq and he loves Iraq, and he will continue leading Iraq until the last minute of his life."

Though couched in the language of propaganda - and seemingly in line with previous statements that could be disregarded as mere rhetoric - Aziz's statement actually serves a purpose. If Hussein and his representatives say that he will not step down and yet continue to leave the possibility of a negotiated departure on the table, opponents to a war would continue their efforts to find a diplomatic solution. More than anything else, Aziz's words are an attempt to buy Hussein time.

It could be argued that Iraq's attempts to use the U.N. weapons inspection process to delay a war have failed, since the Bush administration's "with you or without you" stance toward a U.N. resolution is becoming increasingly apparent. However, Hussein likely is now confident that the U.N. Security Council will not serve as an enabler for the attack. Moreover, collective opposition by major players will make unilateral military action difficult.

The Jan. 22 confrontation that pitted German and French officials against the United States might have bolstered Hussein's confidence. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said a few days ago that, to paraphrase, the world should get a spine. That spine has stiffened -- against Washington. An international coalition of midsize powers - including France, Germany, Russia, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia -- is forming against U.S. unilateralism.

Meanwhile, U.S. support for the war is waning. It seems that as far as popularity is concerned, the Bush administration has lost the momentum gained after the Sept. 11 attacks and now is moving forward almost mechanically.

Growing domestic and international opposition could force the Bush administration to rush into war, even if not fully prepared -- and it will force Washington to consider the political confrontation for which the stage is being set. Public approval for an attack on Iraq drops significantly under the possibility that action will be taken without approval from the United Nations and international community. The numbers also drop quite low when casualties are mentioned - and Hussein believes he can supply those.

Aziz's statement came as Middle Eastern leaders gathered in Ankara to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Ultimately, the summit delegates offered nothing new: They urged Baghdad to "demonstrate a more active approach" to proving compliance with U.N. weapons sanctions and declared their own commitment to supporting the "sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Iraq. There is little that Arab leaders could do otherwise: Turkey cannot thwart the war, or it faces a possible coup; Jordan and the smaller Gulf States can do little to defy Washington for security and financial reasons; Syria is too terrified of the consequences to resist.

Interestingly, of all the opponents to war, France may be trying to hedge its bets. On Thursday, Paris deployed a handful of jets and 150 servicemen to Qatar, even as it continued to spar verbally with Washington. The move could be merely an attempt to wave the flag, demonstrating France's continued commitment to the Middle East and sending a reminder that there are other allies besides Washington. Paris also might hope to join the U.S. operation at the last minute, declaring itself a committed ally, but this is unrealistic. At this point, Paris has dug a deep hole domestically, in Europe and with the United States; sending a few jets to the theater will not win back a welcome from Washington. The Bush administration is not one to forgive and forget, nor one impressed with fence-straddling and half-measures. Remember, it was not so very long ago that the president told the world, "You're either with us or against us."

Amid the countdown -- T minus four days to chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's report to the U.N. - U.S. military deployments to the region chugged along on auto-pilot; U.S. relations with Europe were on the rocks and Hussein was not going into exile. Friday is the Muslim holy day, so while we expect some anti-war agitation at the mosques -- and possibly at the Hajj -- not much else will be happening. Overall, with positions now clear, little remains but to wait for Monday … a crucial day for the United Nations.

The U.N.'s situation is precarious because it is a tool, used by countries like France, in bilateral sparring. However, it also is a bureaucracy that constantly seeks to establish its own legitimacy. The bureaucrats have been struggling to delay or deter a war -- not because they care deeply for Hussein, but because they deeply oppose U.S. unilateralism and want to stake out this kind of conflict as their purview.

The United States will go to war, with or without U.N. approval. The U.N. now must calculate where it wants to be after that war. If Washington launches an attack in the face of U.N. opposition, the U.N. will be weakened, marginalized and delegitimized. To avoid this, the body must find some way to paint U.S. action as, if not formally sanctioned, at least not totally derisive of the U.N. Formal sanction through the Security Council is impossible because permanent members France and Russia are using the council as their own political platform.

The answer lies with Blix.

Blix could be expected to give an ambiguous report - one with nothing even remotely resembling a smoking gun or other serious sanctions violations. This would give the U.N. better grounds to ask for more time before military force is used. This would seem a reasonable course of action for Blix - who, after all, doesn't answer to Washington or Paris but to his own bureaucracy.

However, it is exactly because of this reality that Blix can be expected to give a negative report on Iraq.

An ambiguous report would be useful for the U.N. only if there were still a chance to stay Washington's hand. However, a look at U.S. troop deployments clearly indicates that stalling time is over. President George W. Bush already has created an office in the Pentagon with the mission of rebuilding a post-war Iraq. Military conflict is certain.

An ambiguous report now would be counterproductive for the U.N., forcing it into an unwinnable showdown with Washington. Instead, there is a good chance that Blix will say Iraq has continued to obstruct and delay the inspections process, declare Baghdad's behavior unacceptable and say full disclosure of its weapons program is in doubt, though not proven to be fraudulent.

It seems that Blix already is foreshadowing his move. As U.S. troop movements have intensified, so has the harshness of Blix's criticism of Iraq. It also should be noted that Blix offered no resistance to Washington's offer to send U-2 spy planes to aid weapons inspectors - knowing that Baghdad's anger would be assured.

With this kind of report, U.N. officials could say that they did not sanction war but merely gave an honest evaluation that the United States took and ran with.

Washington would gain a little cover, with a negative U.N. report.

The U.N. would gain a little cover, without passing a formal resolution for military action.

The blame would fall on Iraq.