The Iraq Crisis

WAR—AT ANY COST?

Washington doesn’t really want to give diplomacy a second chance

ARTHUR KENT March 17 2003
The Iraq Crisis

WAR—AT ANY COST?

Washington doesn’t really want to give diplomacy a second chance

ARTHUR KENT March 17 2003

WAR—AT ANY COST?

The Iraq Crisis

Washington doesn’t really want to give diplomacy a second chance

ARTHUR KENT

THE CHASM WIDENED last week. As France, Germany and Russia threatened to veto any United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, Washington vowed to go ahead with military action—with or without Security Council approval. Against that unoptimistic backdrop, Canadian diplomats soldiered on, pushing Ottawa’s compromise proposal for allowing Iraq more time to comply with UN demands to disarm. For a man who’s been losing sleep and running hard, Paul Heinbecker appeared to be relishing the day ahead. “First I’ll look in on the Mexicans and the French and the Russians,” Canada’s ambassador to the UN said, “and find out what their thinking is today.”

Heinbecker has been attempting to excite the diplomatic marketplace with the prospect of that sorrowfully discounted ideal: peace. In this hothouse of global push, persuasion and posturing, the Chrétien government’s proposal, that Iraq be given until March 28 or face war, has stalled (“not getting traction,” in diplomat-speak). Yet Heinbecker showed not a trace of discouragement. “The plan’s heart is still beating,” he said, “and our best hope is that when peo-

ple come to the edge of the abyss, they’ll decide they’d rather find another way.” That other way would unite the Security Council midway between what appears to be the George W. Bush’s plans for an invasion as soon as possible, and the insistence of France and others that UN weapons inspectors should have much more time to try to peacefully disarm Saddam Hussein. The primary goal: to prevent a worsening of the already disastrous split in the council, should the U.S. and Britain try to push through a potentially divisive second resolution authorizing war—which may happen this week. “Our ideas are not rocket science,” Heinbecker said, “but we did think of them first, and with our timing, we caught a wave of interest. On one hand, our document allows the possibility of a war, but there’s also a decision to be made first: a judgment on Iraqi co-operation on disarmament, and a deadline for authorizing the use of force.” But the Bush administration has bluntly dismissed Ottawa’s proposal. Then again, the Bush administration is dismissing almost anything that may stand in the way of warincluding an assertion last week by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix that Sad-

dam’s regime appears to be showing signs of “real disarmament.” Blix later repeated that message when he reported to the Security Council on Friday, although he also stated that Iraq still needs to be more forthcoming. But Bush had effectively given his answer the night before, in a televised speech that seemed intended to prepare the U.S. for war. Iraq has failed to disarm, the President said—“when it comes to our security, we don’t need anybody’s permission. This is the last phase of diplomacy.”

With the U.S. lobbying intensely for the support of the 10 non-permanent members

of the council, the climate around the UN is foul. There have been reports of spying on swing-vote UN missions by the U.S. National Security Agency, as it seeks further advantage for the Bush administration and its diplomatic arm-twisters. Chile has demanded an investigation. Meanwhile, the U.S. last week expelled two attachés from Iraq’s UN mission, claiming at the same time that a total of 300 Iraqis serving as diplomats at embassies around the world are intelligence operatives plotting against U.S. interests.

The cold New York rain, meanwhile, seemed as grim and relentless as the U.S. ad-

ministration’s insistence on military action without delay. “Why do so many Americans support the Bush plan, and why are they angered by other nations’ protests?” asked one Canadian diplomat. “It’s mainly because Bush managed to link the Iraq issue to counterterrorism, and the American public is hurt by suggestions the world doesn’t want to support the U.S. against terror.” A colleague added: “There are voices within the current administration who don’t see

any purpose in the UN. They believe this is the ‘American Historical Moment’ and that the U.S. shouldn’t be tangled up by the UN.” Foreign diplomats are not alone in expressing anxiety over the Bush administration’s bullish disregard for other nations’ reluctance to go to war. Prominent U.S. statesmen also worry that Bush is storming recklessly into a maze of blind alleys. “This is a different style of leadership, and if it continues we’re going to see reactions that won’t be good for the U.S.,” says Lee Hamilton, president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Wash-

ington. “We’ve seen these reactions already in election results from Brazil to South Korea to Germany. Around the world, there’s a lot of resentment. This president’s policies are blunt, his rhetoric is quite divisive. There’s a lack of patience in the Bush administration— they’ve made up their minds to give it another couple of weeks, but they really don’t want to give diplomacy a second chance.”

Hamilton is a former influential, centrist Democrat congressman. As head of the Wilson Center, he speaks for the institutional conscience of American diplomacy: the institution was set up to foster its namesake president’s quest for effective, consensus-building international relations, and it receives significant annual funding from the U.S. government. Its Web site features an essay by Hamilton that includes this stark warning: “A desperate Saddam Hussein could use a scorched earth policy that includes attacks on Israel, the Kurds and other internal opposition. The worst-case scenario is that he is able to use chemical and biological weapons to inflict severe casualties on civilians or U.S. troops. The Iraqi army may also be positioned in heavily populated areas, inviting civilian casualties from U.S. strikes. The American people have not been prepared for the possibility of substantial U.S. casualties or civilian deaths in a war that may involve chemical and biological weaponry.”

Hamilton told Maclean’s: “The President is less concerned about the uneasiness his policies are creating than other presidents. This group in the White House is very confident about American power, that it’s good for the world as well as their own interests. The main consequence is that you’re probably creating a lot of Osama bin Ladens. The long-term consequences of power used arrogantly are hard to measure, but what happened in Turkey [the refusal to allow 60,000 U.S. troops into the country for a northern attack on Iraq] is not surprising. Allies and friends may not be as willing to step forward and co-operate with us in future.”

Not so, the administration claimed last week. For proof of its dexterity in maintaining co-operation abroad, the White House pointed gleefully to the arrest in Pakistan of al-Qaeda kingpin Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, together with money-handler Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi. But by mid-week, the official U.S.

line that the arrests were the result of a joint U.S.-Pakistani intelligence operation was being scorned by analysts in both countries, and a scrap ensued among the various police and intelligence agencies who claimed a share of credit for this rare counter-terrorist coup.

Maclean’s has learned from a police source in Pakistan that at one point during the melee of claims and counterclaims, Pakistani officials considered releasing a formal rebuttal of Washington’s assertion that American case officers had been key to the operation. The Pakistanis’ version of events is backed up by at least one well-placed observer within Washington’s intelligence community. “It’s pretty disgusting, really, because the truth is that this was a Pakistani operation through and through, really basic gumshoe stuff,” the source told Maclean’s. “It wasn’t about sophisticated spying at all. They just tracked Shaikh Mohammed down with good old-fashioned police work. The FBI in Pakistan had a minor role, but these claims that it’s a major victory for U.S. espionage don’t really give a true picture at home in the States. All this chest-beating distracts attention from the fact that we just don’t have enough investigative manpower and resources on the ground over there. The FBI and the CIA and the White House should stop spinning reality and start putting more brains and muscle into the field.”

The charge that U.S. spies are not getting the support they require is hotly debated in

Washington, but there’s little argument over one irritating—and threatening—statistic: two-thirds of al-Qaeda’s leadership remains at large. Should terrorist cells strike at U.S. and other western nations during combat operations in Iraq, the White House will be bombarded with still more accusations that it has gone too long on attacking Saddam and far too short on counterterrorism.

One foreign policy consultant to the U.S. military, who spoke to Maclean’s on condition of anonymity, said, “It’s undeniable, I’m afraid, that this administration has lost focus. The President and his people have bet every dollar of their political capital on getting a perfect outcome in Iraq—disarmament, regime change, spreading of democracy, the works. It’d be more like a miracle. The truth is that once the military gets beyond the brute force stuff, we usually fail pretty miserably. Post-conflict, if you can’t be successful in Afghanistan, I can’t imagine we’re going to be successful in Iraq.”

Yet the drumbeat grows deafening, and public opinion in the U.S., though wavering, continues to provide Bush with a workable edge over his critics. The foreign policy consultant offers an explanation. “The country’s coming out of shock over 9/11, but the anger’s still there,” he says. “People really don’t want to hear about allies talking the war plan down. They want a result, a tangible clear result. It’s just too bad we’re going looking for one in Iraq.” 171

THIS PRESIDENT’S POLICIES ARE BLUNT—AND HIS RHETORIC IS QUITE DIVISIVE’