The Jerusalem Post
14 March 2003
The diplomatic endgame is turning into a farce, and farce is the opposite of what is necessary to defend the free world.
In a last-minute attempt to take seriously the French claim that they are serious about Iraqi disarmament, British Prime Minister Tony Blair put together a six-part ultimatum. The French reaction: "We cannot accept the British proposals as they are based on a logic of war, on a logic of an automatic recourse to force," said Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin on French television. Iraq immediately followed suit by rejecting the British proposal as well.
This French-Iraqi two-step brilliantly illustrates the double futility of any more last chances for Saddam. First, the premise that the French voted for Security Council Resolution 1441, and therefore care about what is says, has no basis. This is the "logic of war" and the French are simply not interested in it.
Second, there is no end in sight to the combination of French dithering and Saddam's ability to play into it. Saddam can indefinitely destroy a few missiles or otherwise throw bones to UN inspectors, who can be counted upon to declare that progress has been made and therefore inspections should continue.
Now France has said that it is open to negotiating some formula that will produce a consensus in the Security Council. Sounds nice, but the US should not fall for this either. If Blair's ultimatum was not good enough for the French, it is clear that their game is to buy time for opposition to the war to grow.
France's objective is not to disarm Iraq, which it does not believe is an immediate threat, but to beat the US. In this context, US President George W. Bush's wavering from his pledge to push for a Security Council vote Secretary of State Colin Powell now says this may or may not happen is a form of blinking in this test of wills between Paris and Washington.
That said, at this point, going to war without a vote would probably be a better option that forcing a vote and losing. The cards that Bush said should be put on the table are not just those of wavering Security Council members, but of the international system itself.
Regardless of whether there is a vote and how it turns out, the United Nations has revealed itself to be worse than the League of Nations it replaced. The league, after all, was a dead letter after it failed to stop Italy's invasion of Abyssinia in 1936. The UN is not just failing to stop an aggressor, but is actively thwarting the US insistence on doing so.
Every moment that the US continues to indulge the UN and grovel for the vote of such bastions of international legitimacy as Guinea and Cameroon serves only to further legitimize a corrupt system and give Saddam more time to plan ways to kill American troops.
At stake now is whether the Security Council is discredited for obstructing the United States, or the US is diplomatically bloodied for flouting the Security Council. The US can hardly afford to lose its diplomatic battle with France more than it can its military battle with Saddam Hussein.
Luckily, speaking of cards, the French seem to have overplayed their hand. For the indefinite future, it is hard to imagine the United States going to the Security Council again for its blessing. In the aftermath of this debacle, the US should simply rely upon "coalitions of the willing," leaving the UN isolated and not the United States.
But all this comes after the war. This war has become a test not only over whether the US will effectively defend itself and the world, but whether it will let divisions among democracies prevent it from doing so. The only way to pass this test is to put an end to the delays and last chances. The time of decision is now.