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Jewish World Review Jan. 23, 2002 / 20 Shevat, 5763

Robert W. Tracinski

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The Iraq charade | The headline of an Associated Press report from Tuesday declares, "Gaps Appear to Widen over Iraq within UN Security Council." The wording is, perhaps unintentionally, precise: the gaps only appear to be widening.

The report informs us -- to no one's surprise, I hope -- that France, Russia and China are opposed to a U.S. invasion of Iraq. In other words, everyone has spent the past four months skirmishing on tactics -- the U.S. asking for inspections in a bid to line up support for an invasion, other nations approving the inspections in a bid to head off the invasion -- but neither side has moved an inch on substance. So we are now exactly where we were four months ago, when President Bush started this U.N. charade.

And it is, increasingly, looking like a charade. Even as the administration has wrangled over Security Council resolutions and talked about making inspections more effective, the U.S. has moved enormous quantities of men, ships, tanks, planes and materiel to Iraq's border. The exact details are classified, but there has been no attempt to hide the overall outlines: more than 150,000 soldiers, fully equipped command centers with all of the key personnel to coordinate an attack, hundreds of tanks, hundreds of attack helicopters, hundreds of planes and their ground crews, and anywhere from three to six carrier battle groups -- all at a cost of tens of billions of dollars.

No nation has ever gone to such lengths or built such a massive offensive force without using it. The administration still says that President Bush has made no decision on invading Iraq. But all of the facts on the ground indicate that Bush made that decision six months ago, that he has just been going through the motions at the U.N., in an effort to stall congressional critics, mollify Arab regimes and mark time while the U.S. prepares its invasion.

There is, however, a far more ominous possibility: that the administration is actually sincere about seeking U.N. support and continuing with weapons inspections, that the military buildup is the real charade. A recent hint at this possibility comes from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who told reporters, "There is no question but that the deployment of troops in the Middle East is being done in the service of diplomacy." If this is the case, the massive buildup is just for show, to provide diplomatic pressure to encourage Iraqi compliance.

I hope not. Bush promised us, in his last State of the Union address, that he would not "wait on events while dangers gather." Well, the last year has looked a lot like waiting on events, as Bush has subcontracted crucial foreign policy decisions to our appeasing "allies" -- our Iraq policy to the U.N. and Hans Blix, our North Korea policy to South Korea and Japan, the Venezuela crisis to the Organization of American States. What our foreign policy needs is a reminder that the U.S. is not a paper tiger, that we are still capable of acting independently to protect our interests.

But even with the best outcome, Bush has still undermined America's credibility. If he goes to the U.N. for permission to attack Iraq, he is conceding its moral authority -- the moral authority of an organization that just elected a Libyan diplomat as chairman of its Commission on Human Rights. By kowtowing to the U.N., Bush has undermined America's moral authority if we attack Iraq without U.N. permission -- which we are almost certain to do. And if we don't attack Iraq, there is a more devastating loss of credibility: if the U.S. fails to follow through on such a massive buildup, no nation will ever believe our threats.

The deeper charade that everyone is playing is the pretense that ideas don't matter. The essence of this charade is the assumption that a nation's declared foreign policy is just talk and lip-service, the hoops you go through and the incantations you mouth to get what you really want. Let others play that game. Let France and Russia mouth platitudes about "multilateralism" to cover up the fact that what they really want is to see America weakened and humbled.

Bush's worst crime is that the truth is on his side. The brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime and the futility of the inspections whack-a-mole game are obvious to all. Yet our president does not have the courage to pursue America's interests honestly.

America has nothing to hide and nothing to apologize for. We have no need for charades.

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