Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2003 / 1 Adar I, 5763
This hasn't been a 'rush to war'
Vehemently, President Bush's critics accuse him of a reckless "rush
to war" in Iraq, and lament that his go-it-alone "unilateralism" has
undercut US leadership and alienated our allies.
These arguments often come packaged together. For example, in an
editorial titled "The Race to War," The New York Times last Sunday urged
the president to "brake the momentum toward war" because "to go it
alone, or nearly alone, is to court disaster." Better to let
inspections proceed, it counseled, "leaving more time . . . for
Washington to mobilize the international support it now lacks."
Three days earlier, Senator John Kerry had made the same points in a
speech at Georgetown.
"Show the world some appropriate patience in building a genuine
coalition," he admonished. "Mr. President, do not rush to war." Kerry
condemned Bush's "belligerent and myopic unilateralism," his "blustering
unilateralism," and his "erratic unilateralism." And just in case the
point wasn't clear, he warned that "unilateralism is a formula for
isolation and shrinking influence."
As slogans, "rush to war" and "unilateralism" are catchy. But they
are also false.
If anything, Bush has been *inching* his way to war. It was as a
candidate for president that he first laid down his marker: "If I found
in any way, shape, or form that [Saddam Hussein] was developing weapons
of mass destruction, I'd take him out. I'm surprised he's still there."
That was in December 1999 -- more than three years ago.
It has been more than a year since Bush inducted Iraq into the "axis
of evil" and vowed that the United States "will not permit the world's
most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive
weapons." Last summer he agreed to seek congressional authority to use
force against Iraq, then waited patiently as the House and Senate
debated the matter.
A strong case can be made that existing Security Council resolutions
already authorize an attack on Iraq for its failure to disarm and
respect human rights, but Bush nevertheless decided to appeal to the
United Nations for support. He addressed the General Assembly in
September, laying out in detail Saddam's egregious violations.
After that came the lengthy haggling over the wording of a new
Security Council mandate. Then the unanimous vote to adopt Resolution
1441. Then the delay while Saddam "decided" whether to accept the
resolution's terms. Then another delay as Iraq prepared a (mendacious)
12,000-page declaration of its chemical, biological, nuclear, and
ballistic weapons programs. And yet another delay -- of more than two
months -- as Hans Blix & Co. went through the largely futile process of
"inspecting" Iraq's compliance with the UN's disarmament directives.
Still not rushing, Bush stayed his hand to give Blix time to report
back to the Security Council. He used his State of the Union address to
again make the case that Saddam poses a uniquely virulent threat.
Instead of calling for war, he announced that Colin Powell would return
to the United Nations to discuss, explain, and negotiate some more.
The English language is a marvel of nuance and flexibility, and
there is no shortage of words one might use to describe the
administration's pace toward regime change in Iraq: gradual, measured,
careful, deliberate, implacable, remorseless. But some linguistic
contortions are impossible. It isn't a "rush to war."
Nor is it unilateralism.
Last Thursday, the president of the Czech Republic and the prime
ministers of Spain, Portugal, Italy, Great Britain, Hungary, Poland, and
Denmark published a statement of support for America's stance against
Saddam. "We must remain united in insisting that his regime be
disarmed," the eight European leaders wrote, and pointedly called on the
Security Council to "face up to its responsibilities." It is hard to
imagine a more multilateral vote of confidence -- or a more stinging
refutation of the complaint that the Bush administration is going it
alone, marching off to war without the backing or sympathy of the
The statement of solidarity was dramatic, but it should have come as
no surprise. For all the wailing about "unilateralism," many of
America's allies are signing on to help. It was reported just last
week, for example, that Turkey has agreed to host a 20,000-man
mechanized division, enabling US troops to enter Iraq from the north.
Jordan, which borders Iraq on the west (and which refused to support the
United States in the first Gulf War), will also allow US soldiers to be
stationed within its borders.
Spain announced in January that it would permit the use of Spanish
bases for an attack on Iraq. Poland's president pledged his country's
assistance, offering to contribute troops to a US-led coalition even
without UN approval. The Czechs have put their anti-chemical warfare
unit at Washington's disposal. Hungary is already letting the United
States train thousands of Iraqi exiles at a Hungarian military base.
To be sure, France is not on board -- yet. It will be. The French
are already drawing up plans to send 15,000 troops to Iraq, along with
two warships, Mirage fighter-bombers, and the Charles de Gaulle,
France's only aircraft carrier. The French may pose and bluster, but
they will not sit out this fight.
What Kerry and the Times call "unilateralism," our friends and
allies recognize as leadership. In this space more than four months
ago, I wrote: "When the American war to topple Saddam begins, most of
Europe will follow." Count on it.
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Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.
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