Bush’s Iraq Campaign
With regard to . . . comments on Bush’s recent success in pushing his Iraq
campaign, I don’t actually think it is that surprising. It has long been
apparent that Bush would not be opposed by most Democrats in the Congress
if he pursued this war, and important leaders such as Lieberman and
Gephardt have been as hawkish as he on the issue. The polls have shown
that at the very least there is not strong US public opposition to such a
war. So, domestically he was always in a good position to go forward with
it. It is true that the administration and the Republican Party seemed
disunited on the issue this past summer, but the dissent was not actually
very deep, nor did it have its own strong power bases. Dick Armey is
after all a lame duck. Scowcroft is out of office. And Powell could
always be given a choice of coming on board or resigning.
Internationally, I think one key to his success was to go to the United
Nations, thus invoking international law. There is a difference between
going to war with Iraq because Donald Rumsfeld doesn’t like the looks of
Saddam Hussein, and going to war with Iraq because Saddam Hussein has
thumbed his nose at Security Council resolutions. Bush’s earlier
skittishness about approaching the U.N. (as late as August the LA Times
was reporting that Bush would not go to the Security Council for a
resolution) was hurting him internationally.
I agree with the point made earlier that it is impossible to distinguish
between an idealist multilateralism and a cynical one. The normative
force of the UN is significant, and Bush spent half an hour Friday trying
to get Putin on board. This is what he should have been doing last
spring. Asharq al-Awsat had a piece again today in which Saudia
emphasized that it would abide by Security Council resolutions. Its
earlier opposition to the war was an opposition to having no fig leaf of
international legitimacy, and opposition to being seen as a mere isolated
lackey of American cowboys.
The other international factor that made it easy for Bush to go forward is
that Saddam Hussein has no regional friends or allies. His 1980 invasion
of Iran was extremely costly geopolitically. Despite the Iranians’ noises
about not liking an American invasion of Iraq, I can’t imagine they won’t
be delighted to see Saddam removed. If an Iraq emerges with a Shiite
majority, this has to be a positive for them. If it is a real democracy,
it could even strengthen the Iranian reformers. Most Iraqi Shi`ites are
less oriented to clericalism than their Iranian counterparts, and they
might create a new model. The conservative ayatollahs may be nervous
about this, but that SCIRI and the Hakims are on board with the Americans
would mute their criticism in private.
Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait set the whole of the Gulf against him. The
little Gulf states may be nervous about a war, but Qatar and Kuwait are
clearly on board. Without Kuwait, the US would have had no plausible
staging ground against Saddam. Although the Arab League is against the
invasion of an Arab country by a Western one in principle, the likelihood
that any of the Arab states would give Saddam any practical support is
very, very low.
Saddam’s long feud with the Syrian Baath party likewise hurts him. The
Syrians are among the non-permanent members on the Security Council.
Again, despite Bashar’s statements to the contrary, it is clear that Syria
could live with Saddam being gotten rid of.
Saddam’s mass murder of Kurds and virtual genocide against Shi`ites (why
does no one ever talk about the latter?) make him impossible to defend for
liberals. The most anyone can say is that perhaps Baathist Iraq can be
contained militarily, and that the abuse of the population by this
bloodthirsty regime has to be allowed to continue because . . . well, no
one can think of a good ending to the sentence.
A world in which Saddam had kept at least correct relations with Iran,
Syria and the Gulf, and in which he could be depicted as at least a
progressive tyrant, would have been a far more difficult environment for
Bush to operate in with regard to an Iraq campaign. As it is, Saddam dug
his own grave.
I continue to have grave worries about the possible instability that could
ensue from such a campaign. But these are worries about the aftermath of
the war, not its plausibility per se. If Bush can get a Security Council
resolution authorizing the war, I think he can get the world to support
it. China often abstains about these things, and wants a free hand in
Xinjiang, which the U.S. has given it. Russia probably can be gotten on
board if it is guaranteed to get back the $7 bn. Iraq owes it and to be
able to compete for oil deals. France increasingly sounds as though it
can be recruited. Tony Blair seems to have his back benchers in hand,
though this was not always a sure thing. With the UK and France on board,
Germany becomes a little irrelevant (it didn’t send troops for the Gulf
War, either, anyway).
I believe that this is actually the greatest test of his leadership Bush
has faced. Can he put together a consensus on the Security Council? If
so, his path will be far smoother. If success at the UN SC in turn allows
Saudia to lend air space and other support to the war, that will be very
important to the ease of its prosecution. No doubt the war can be
prosecuted even if Bush fails in this, but it would be a different sort of
war and risk isolating the US. Military power is not the only kind, after
all, and even though the rest of the world cannot stand up to US might, it
can stop cooperating in key ways that would cost us.
This is what I wrote to G2K in late April, 2002:
“The first Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan were done right.
International consensus was built, and collective security was invoked.
The planned war against Iraq is not being done right so far. If the
Security Council and the European Union get aboard with it, then I will be
all for it.”
As for the possible impact on the Palestine issue, the neocons may get a
surprise. The US is beginning to have fair numbers of close Muslim
allies–Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar,
Kuwait, Saudia, and now possibly a post-Saddam Iraq. At some point their
diplomatic weight and credibility, combined with the increasing voting
strength of US Muslims (which will not stop growing as long as the 1965
immigration act is in place), may induce the US to be more even-handed and
to try actually to resolve the problem.