The fix is in. “World opinion” — as defined by the United Nations, the AJWs (al-Jazeera-watchers), domestic antiwar types, the French and German streets, Hollywood, and certain segments of our own media — has decided that the United States and Great Britain will be held to an impossibly high standard during the duration of this war, while the peace-loving government of Saddam Hussein will be held to an outrageously low one. Kofi Annan has already made it clear he’s more outraged by the possibility of an errant U.S. missile than he is by reports that Baath-party Brown Shirts are abducting the wives and children of Iraqi men and giving them a choice: Get mowed down by an Abrams or see your wife raped or son killed. He’s more upset, again, by 15 innocent, but accidental, victims of war — who (bear with me: I need to explain this clearly, in case any U.N. diplomats are reading), if they died because of U.S. weaponry, were not the intended targets — than the numerous Iraqi civilians deliberately killed as human shields or as examples to others who’d dare rise up or refuse the call of the Baathist regime. There are reports this morning that perhaps thousands of Iraqi civilians have been shot at by Baathists inside Basra. This would not be a first there. Still, I will not hold my breath today for Annan to give a press conference denouncing Iraqi civilian casualties unless, that is, we make another tragic mistake.
#ad#But fine, fine. We can live by a higher standard. Indeed we must because, well, we are the good guys. And what makes the good guys good is being better than the bad guys. If that sounds too simplistic to you, all I can say is: shame on you.
Regardless, we should make it clear that while we are aware there are political and diplomatic benefits to behaving much, much, much better than that poor underdog Saddam Hussein, we are not conducting ourselves with honor in order to score a few benign adjectives from the Goebbels-like programmers of al-Jazeera, or perhaps to earn one less wag from Kofi Annan’s finger. We are conducting ourselves with honor because our men and women are decent people fighting in a noble effort. Character, as some like to say, is what you do when no one is watching. And American character would remain as it is if all the 24-hour cameras were turned off tomorrow.
So, again, the fix is in. Jacques Chirac and Kofi Annan have already made it clear there’s little the United States and Great Britain can do to make this war “legitimate,” in the words of Chirac. They’ve moved the goalposts off the field and into the bleachers and, if need be, they’ll put them on rollers. Maybe by this time next week we’ll be able to see the goalposts in the Z section of the parking lot, making their way for the interstate. This week, when asked to state clearly who he wants to win this war, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin offered what amounted to a verbal shrug, refusing to give an answer. After all, that is a complicated question. Side with the two democracies that twice saved and rebuilt your crippled nation and helped defend you from the Soviets or side with the barbaric tyranny which uses rapes the way the IRS uses audits. That is a toughie.
What’s even tougher, though, is peeling through the incoherence of France’s broader position. In his speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, Villepin also explained that during the current “war phase” when Americans and Brits are fighting and dying, “it is clear that the countries that have taken the lead on the ground may have a special responsibility.” But during the “reconstruction phase,” “The U.N. [Translation: France] must be at the heart of the reconstruction and administration of Iraq….The legitimacy of our action depends on it. We must come together to build peace together in a region rife with a sense of insecurity and deep fault lines.”
Wait a second. “The countries that have taken the lead on the ground”? The countries that have taken the lead on the ground? “Our actions?” Did he really say these things?
Get Monsieur Villepin to his fainting couch for I believe he must have had some bad snails. What the hell is he talking about? It almost sounds like Mr. Villepin thinks he represents a country that has “taken the lead” in something other than being a proctological nuisance of cosmic proportions to “the countries that have taken the lead on the ground.” President Chirac told East European nations to “shut up” and behave like good little Epcot Center countries if they wanted to join Europe. He lobbied the African nations on the Security Council to vote against us. And now there are reports that the French and the Germans warned Turkey that if they helped the United States open a northern front, they could forget about joining the EU. And, last week, at the EU summit in Brussels, Jacques Chirac argued that France would veto any U.N. resolution which would “legitimize” U.S. and British war efforts. If France’s leadership off the ground continues, they’ll end up giving Saddam the bomb and a permanent seat on the Security Council.
LET’S MAKE A DEAL
So, again, we are heading to an impasse. The French, the Germans, the Russians, and whoever it is Kofi Annan represents insist that the postwar reconstruction not reward American and British “belligerence.” At the core of this position is the belief that the United States isn’t doing this for “the right reasons.” Many in Europe and around the world believe that the United States is in this for the oil or for the Haliburton contracts or for — yawn — “da Jews.” So if the U.S. is doing this for selfish reasons, there’s no principled reason why the French and the Russians shouldn’t be selfish as well. Hence the demands that the United States and Great Britain not be allowed to control postwar Iraq. Indeed, at times France and Russia sound like Mafiosos from competing territories, insisting that they get their beaks wet with Iraqi oil too. So deep is the distrust, the Russian foreign minister recently insisted that the world cannot take America’s word for it if we find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Only the U.N. can confirm that, he said. The suggestions that the U.S. or Britain might plant a couple tons of VX gas on Saddam’s corpse sits just below the surface. (And I certainly hope that if — God forbid — Saddam uses chemical weapons on US troops the Russians won’t ask for UN confirmation that we didn’t gas our own men).
But, it seems to me, this provides the glimmer of a compromise which might heal the international rift. The French have already suggested that if the Iraqis use chemical weapons on Coalition forces, they will join the fight, or at least they will shed their cultivated asininity for a while. The Russians say that they want the U.N. to confirm the existence of WMD because they too understand that the discovery of WMDs largely justifies what the United States and Britain are doing. If Saddam has a nuclear program or stockpiles of VX or tubs and tubs of hidden anthrax then, all of a sudden, the U.S. and U.K. will be largely vindicated. We’ll be able to say that we fulfilled an obligation the U.N. was unwilling to fulfill. But, if there’s no WMD it will be very difficult for the United States and Great Britain to claim we did this for our stated reasons, doubly so if we are not celebrated as liberators by the vast majority of Iraqis.
So here’s the deal: George Bush — who has rightly been much more reluctant than Tony Blair to toss the U.N. a bone when it comes to the potentially lucrative prospect of rebuilding Iraq — should make it known that if Coalition forces find no Iraqi WMD while we’re in there, we will defer to the U.N. on how to run postwar Iraq. If the use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein would “change the equation” for the French during the war, why shouldn’t the discovery of WMD stockpiles at the end of hostilities change the equation for the peace? If it becomes clear that the United States and Great Britain were right when we said France, Russia, and Germany were being willfully obtuse in not seeing Iraq’s noncompliance, why shouldn’t the Coalition nations be rewarded for having the courage of our convictions? If these reconstruction contracts must go to someone, and we can credibly argue that we made the greatest sacrifices while the French and Russians were supine appeasers, why shouldn’t those contracts go to us?
Now, to be honest, I think they should go to us regardless, because America’s motives were right — and our sacrifices are real — even if Saddam doesn’t have these weapons. For twelve years he issued bilious clouds of smoke in order to make the world think there’s a fire in Iraq. If it turns out it was all smoke and no fire, that doesn’t make us wrong for bringing the fire hose.
But, as a political proposition, without the discovery of WMD, postwar Iraq will be a political tar baby anyway — perhaps even if we’re greeted as liberators by most Iraqis. We might as well hand it over to the United Nations. I am still confident we will find plenty of such weapons — Saddam didn’t buy those chemical suits and atropine injectors because Glamour magazine says they’re all the rage — and these stories about drums of chemicals are not encouraging.
But the administration needs to start preparing the diplomatic battlefield. Rather than continuing to say “many decisions still need to be made,” Bush and Blair need to define the debate now. The French defined the prewar debate by constantly insisting that the inspectors were “making progress.” We need to define the postwar debate now by saying to Kofi and Jacques: “If we’re wrong, Iraq’s yours. If we’re right we’ll accept your apologies in writing and we’ll expect you to show up bright and early Monday morning for instructions.