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Jewish World Review Sept. 19, 2002 / 13 Tishrei, 5763

Robert W. Tracinski

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Consumer Reports

Bush loses the war, again | The Bush family has a real talent for losing wars against Iraq, and they seem to be getting more efficient at it. The first President Bush waited until he achieved a crushing victory over Iraq's armies before capitulating to Saddam Hussein. The second President Bush has saved a lot of time and trouble; he has capitulated before the fighting has even begun.

The conventional wisdom is that Bush's speech last week to the UN was a "brilliant" maneuver that galvanized the administration's long-sought international "consensus" against Iraq. A typical op-ed declared, "Over the course of 48 hours last week, the opposition to removal of Saddam Hussein ... collapsed like a house of cards. ... This week, however, it is Bush's diplomatic strategy that is collapsing, as all of the countries that endorsed his UN speech -- from Russia to Saudi Arabia -- now scramble to applaud Saddam Hussein's latest pledge to readmit weapons inspectors. The new "consensus" is the view stated by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz: "All the reasons for an attack have been eliminated."

Bush can't complain. Everyone is just following the logic he set up in his speech. He sought an international consensus based on the demand that Iraq unconditionally agree, once again, to the weapons inspections it was supposed to unconditionally agree to for the past 11 years. If that was the basis for Bush's international coalition, then it was child's play for Saddam to reach out and, with nothing more than a few words on a scrap of paper, smash that coalition all to pieces.

Iraq said that it will "unconditionally" accept weapons inspectors -- and then invited the UN to discuss under what conditions those unconditional inspections will take place. The Bush administration declared, of course, that it will not play this kind of diplomatic game, that it will demand nothing less than "truly unconditional" inspections. But using inspections as a substitute for war makes diplomatic games inevitable. It changes the issue from the black and white of war vs. peace, to a series of gray areas and debatable details.

Who gets to determine the membership of the inspection teams? What are the procedures the inspectors must follow, and how are those procedures enforced? What kind of delay constitutes a breach of the inspection agreement? Each of these small issues becomes another front on which Iraq can deploy its vast, well-tested arsenal of obstruction and stalling tactics. Yet each of these infractions can be made to seem so inconsequential by itself -- in the eyes of Arab apologists and appeasing Europeans -- that it does not justify war. As one administration official asked, "Are you going to be able to go to war because inspectors were kept in a parking lot for 15 minutes?"

Who is going to answer those questions? In his speech last week, Bush made the case against Iraq purely in terms of its violation of UN demands and its flouting of the supposed authority of the Security Council. That means it will be up to the permanent members of the Security Council -- including Russia, China and France -- to enforce any new inspections agreement. The role of these countries has already been anticipated by Aziz, who announced: "When the inspectors do not act honestly and professionally" -- i.e., when they do not put up with Iraqi obstructionism -- "they (Russia, China, and France) should tell them, 'you have to behave yourself and act according to what the Security Council wants and not what the United States and Britain want.'"

The deepest failure of Bush's UN speech is not his attempt to renew the useless weapons inspections. It is the fact that he felt compelled to give that speech at all. It is the fact that he chose to subordinate America's war-making power to the procedures and dictates of the United Nations.

Eleven years ago, Bush's father allowed the UN to become the arbiter and defender of America's cease-fire with Iraq. Last week, Bush laid out the results: Iraq's blatant, unpunished violation of 16 separate UN resolutions, starting just three months after the Gulf War. This does not just make the case against Saddam; it makes the case against the UN, demonstrating the folly of placing America's national security in the hands of an organization that is hostile or indifferent to America's interests.

Kowtowing to the UN is how America surrendered its victory in the first Gulf War. We must not allow the same policy to prevent us from fighting and winning the Gulf War the second time around.

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