The Iraq Crisis

FRIENDS AND FOES

Both spell trouble for the U.S. push to war,

JONATHON GATEHOUSE February 24 2003
The Iraq Crisis

FRIENDS AND FOES

Both spell trouble for the U.S. push to war,

JONATHON GATEHOUSE February 24 2003

FRIENDS AND FOES

Both spell trouble for the U.S. push to war,

JONATHON GATEHOUSE

The Iraq Crisis

THE PHRASE has never publicly passed George W. Bush's lips, nor has it appeared in any official diplomatic communications, but somehow you just know the White House isn't displeased to find the French being referred to as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" in the world's press. The untranslatable slur—primates capitulards et toujours en quête de fromages seems to be the best approximation—was first uttered by The Simpsons' inimitable groundskeeper Willie. Now it has become emblematic of growing U.S. frustration with both America's friends and foes—and the potent mixture of anger and fear that is now carrying the United States toward war.

"What we need is not more inspections, what we need is not more access, what we need is immediate active unconditional full co-operation on the part of Iraq. What we need is for Iraq to disarm," Colin Powell, the U.S. secretary of state, told the United Nations Security Council after the latest report from chief weapons inspector Hans Blix. Saddam Hussein will continue to "deceive, divert, throw us off the trail" unless more direct action is taken, he said. "Force should always be a last resort. I have preached this for most of my professional life as a soldier and a diplomat, but it must be a resort. We cannot allow this process to be endlessly strung out as Iraq is trying to do right now."

In a week that saw key allies in NATO and the UN doing their best to frustrate U.S. wishes for a quick and easy path to Baghdad, domestic public opinion seemed to have finally snapped into rally-roundthe-flag mode. Sixty-three per cent of Americans now believe Bush has presented enough evidence to justify using force against Saddam Hussein, according to an ABC News-Washington Post survey. Sixty-six per cent of the U.S. public now supports military action, says a New York Times-CBS News poll, though almost as many would

prefer that the White House wait until other countries sign on to the cause. And the vast majority of Americans are now officially scared: four out of five respondents told the Times they believe another terrorist attack is imminent; 59 per cent said an attack on Iraq will make that threat even more likely to come true.

Recent developments, and dire warnings from both the U.S. and Britain, have raised those fears. America remains on a Code Orange alert—at "high risk" of terrorist attacks—and anti-aircraft missiles have been deployed around Washington. Acting on intelligence reports that al-Qaeda agents intent on bringing down an airliner have slipped into the U.K., the British government dispatched tanks to Heathrow. A new tape, purportedly from Osama bin Laden, advised Iraqis how to survive the coming air raids, coun-

selled suicide attacks, and incited Muslims to rise up against their "oppressive, unjust, apostate ruling governments, which in turn are enslaved by America."

News that North Korea (owner of "one or two" nuclear bombs according to the CIA) now has a missile that might be capable of delivering warheads to North America caused further shivers, though the U.S. arsenal of more than 18,000 such devices is rarely mentioned. And a recommendation from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that families take steps to prepare for a terrorist attack sent panicked Americans scurrying to their hardware stores for flashlights, plastic sheeting and duct tape.

The world seems to be dividing into two camps: nations that are willing to go along with the U.S. now, and those that will require more blandishment and diplomatic armtwisting. The question is, just how long will Bush and his closest allies give the UN and NATO to come around to their way of thinking. "We don't think a second Security Council resolution on Iraq is legally required, but it would be hugely desirable," Sir Andrew Burns, Britain's high commissioner to Canada, told Maclean's editorial board. "And our view is, that goal is achievable." Even with millions of people expected to attend worldwide weekend protests, the British government remained committed to disarming Iraq now, and by force if necessary. "We do believe that Saddam Hussein constitutes a grave threat to British interests," said Burns. Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations see Iraq as a potential ally and source of weapons of mass destruction, he added, "and it has become clear that pre-emptive action is better than waiting to be clobbered."

Despite the divisive rhetoric between the U.S. and its allies, most observers agree it is only a matter of time until some sort of facesaving bargain is struck that will allow Bush

to forcibly remove Hussein from power. "America has significantly more support than its critics like to claim," says Frank Harvey, director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Halifax's Dalhousie University. "The fact that 16 of the 19 NATO members are not falling in line with France, Germany and Belgium is what speaks volumes."

The international community is focused on U.S. priorities and concerns in a way that it never has been before. With the Bush administration making it clear that security against further terrorist attacks trumps all other issues, realpolitik dictates that the world's dominant economic, political and military power will eventually be placated. "Multilateralism is a myth," says Harvey. "Every single state involved in this conflict is operating in its own unilateral self-interest." The opposition of Germany and France has more to do with a battle for leadership within the European Union and the strug-

gle for a better share of post-war Iraqi oil development, he says. China and Russia wish to limit the scope of America's inevitable victory over Iraq, and its repercussions for the world balance of power.

The diplomatic brinkmanship will go on, perhaps for weeks, but eventually the coalition will fall into line. "It's better to be on the side of a policy that you're not enthusiastic about than to be completely marginalized," says Harvey. "Now for those governments it's about figuring out how to do it so it's politically palatable to their domestic audiences."

A U.S.-sponsored Security Council resolution on the use of force could come as early as this week, signalling the start of the final push for war. And with American and British troops, planes, and ships continu-

ing to flow into the Gulf region, the deadline for the UN and its member states to opt in seems to be imminent. "Events aren't being decided by what's happening at the Security Council," says Andrew Bacevich, director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University. "They are really being driven by the timetable of deployments." Desert heat, the phases of the moon, tides, and local considerations will all play a part in the decision of U.S. commanders about the size of the window for launching a war. Bacevich suggests it will start sometime between the end of February and the middle of March—but it appears to be a matter of when, not if. "The bottom line is, they are committed to removing Saddam Hussein from power and doing it soon," he says. "The gun is cocked, and at some point they're going to have to pull the trigger." Hfl

jgatehouse@macleans.ca