Those opposed to the prospect of a U.S.-led intervention in Iraq are unlikely to change their minds based on Secretary Powell’s remarkably detailed report to the U.N. Security Council. Indeed, anti-warriors will cite the specifics provided regarding Baghdad’s deception and obstructionism to support their own conviction that inspections will, if given sufficient time, succeed in disarming the regime. Given the breadth and depth of the intelligence available, they will ask, what chance does Saddam Hussein have of keeping the weapons inspectors at bay?
But Powell’s true purpose was not to turn around public opinion, either at home or abroad. His purpose was to provide the so-called international community with one last chance to join Washington in doing what the Bush administration has long since concluded that the United States must do.
That is, Powell’s purpose was to make unmistakably clear that the United States intends to proceed with plans to forcibly disarm Iraq and of equal, if not greater importance make an end to the Baathist regime. The countdown to war is well underway and will soon reach zero.
In that regard, the identity of the messenger was at least as important as the words he spoke. The announcement that war is now all but unavoidable came not from the cowboy in the White House or his surly secretary of defense but from the senior official widely seen as this administration’s voice of reason, moderation, and prudence.
To those governments hitherto opposing intervention, Secretary Powell provides cover to permit them to follow Washington’s lead. To those who wish to have some say in the coming effort to transform the Middle East, Powell has offered one final invitation: Either get on board now or be left behind.
Because the train is leaving the station. With or without allies — and barring Saddam’s removal by a coup or voluntary exile — the Bush administration is going to war.
President Bush has picked up the dice and will soon roll them. His presidency and much else is dependent on the numbers that turn up.
— Andrew Bacevich teaches at Boston University and is the author of American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U. S. Diplomacy.