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Muddling Toward Iraq

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Joi Ito asking me if I was for or against war in Iraq. I've given a great deal of thought to this question since (here and here). At last I've come to a position, thankfully before the war actually begins.

One thing I find striking is that I know of no one personally on any side of this issue who believes that the government of Iraq is being truthful in claiming that it has in no way, shape, or form been pursuing the development or acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Now, with that in mind, here are some of the more relevant terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1441:

Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions...

Iraq, by this resolution, [has] a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations under relevant resolutions of the Council...

[T]he Government of Iraq shall provide to UNMOVIC, the IAEA, and the Council, not later than 30 days from the date of this resolution, a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems...

[F]alse statements or omissions in the declarations submitted by Iraq pursuant to this resolution and failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations...

[T]he Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations...

Remember, the Security Council voted unanimously for this resolution.

So, if no one believes that Iraq has been truthful with regard to its WMD programs, and if the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution warning of "serious consequences" of failure to comply with its terms, which include an "accurate, full, and complete declaration" of Iraq's WMD programs -- yet at the same time many of these people do not believe that we should take steps to disarm Iraq -- then I'm missing something.

As worrisome as I find other security situations around the world, especially North Korea, and as disappointed as I may be with aspects of how the Bush administration has handled this and other crises, the issue for me is this: the world community -- through the Security Council -- came together and spoke with one voice, saying that Iraq must make a truthful declaration and provide full cooperation. This action -- and Iraq's half-steps toward cooperation since -- only occurred because the US made it clear that it was willing to go to war over the issue. Now, with Iraq not complying with Resolution 1441 (though offering additional half-steps as US attack grows imminent), certain members of the world community want to take forced disarmament -- the threat of which is what has brought what cooperation we have seen -- off the table, undermining the resolution they themselves supported.

In the words of Thomas Friedman (emphasis mine):

The French position is utterly incoherent. The inspections have not worked yet, says [French foreign minister Dominique] de Villepin, because Saddam has not fully cooperated, and, therefore, we should triple the number of inspectors. But the inspections have failed not because of a shortage of inspectors. They have failed because of a shortage of compliance on Saddam's part, as the French know. The way you get that compliance out of a thug like Saddam is not by tripling the inspectors, but by tripling the threat that if he does not comply he will be faced with a U.N.-approved war...

I also want to avoid a war -- but not by letting Saddam off the hook, which would undermine the U.N., set back the winds of change in the Arab world and strengthen the World of Disorder. The only possible way to coerce Saddam into compliance -- without a war -- is for the whole world to line up shoulder-to-shoulder against his misbehavior, without any gaps. But France, as they say in kindergarten, does not play well with others. If you line up against Saddam you're just one of the gang. If you hold out against America, you're unique. "France, it seems, would rather be more important in a world of chaos than less important in a world of order," says the foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum, author of "The Ideas That Conquered the World."

If France were serious about its own position, it would join the U.S. in setting a deadline for Iraq to comply, and backing it up with a second U.N. resolution authorizing force if Iraq does not.

Like Friedman, I want to avoid war, but I believe that experience has shown conclusively that the only way to avoid war while ensuring that Iraq does not gain access to WMD is to threaten war and be willing to back up that threat with action. Like Friedman, I believe the best path forward is for the world to stand together.

I believe the Security Council should unanimously say to Iraq, "If you do not immediately comply fully with Resolution 1441, the international community will disarm you by force, with the full blessing and support of this Council. For you to be considered in compliance with Resolution 1441, within one month of the date of this resolution, UN weapons inspectors must affirmatively certify that you are in compliance with a list of highly specific requirements. Should the weapons inspectors fail to so certify your compliance with any of these requirements within the month, you will be considered in breach of this resolution, which will result in your forced disarmament with no further resolutions or negotiations."

What if the permanent members of the Security Council are unwilling to accept such a bargain -- the delay of military action in exchange for their unequivocal and irrevocable cooperation should it be necessary? Then I believe the US would be both justified and correct in pursuing military action without further UN resolutions and without the blessing of any specific nation. What if the Bush administration chooses not to seek such a bargain and simply acts on the basis of non-compliance with Resolution 1441? While I would be less enthusiastic about this course of action, I would nevertheless support it.

Last November, the UN made clear to Iraq the steps it would need to take to avoid "serious consequences." Iraq has not taken these steps. Iraq remains controlled by a dictator who has in the past invaded his neighbors, lauched missiles at Israel, and used chemical weapons on his own citizens. This is a dictator and a regime that must not be allowed to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We may be too late in the case of North Korea, but we have the opportunity to deal with Iraq before it becomes the next North Korea. We must take this opportunity -- preferably with the support of a united international community, gained through proactive and constructive dialogue, but on our own if need be.

In the words of Woodrow Wilson, speaking at an even more portentous moment than we face today:

It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things we have always carried closest to our hearts.
"The right is more precious than peace." Or, as Teddy Roosevelt said:
"Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves... as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy."
Powerful words from two men noted for their efforts on behalf of peace.
After finishing this entry, and having read other war-related blog entries, I began thinking about how many friends I have with diverse points of view, but who don't have blogs -- at least not yet -- and how the world would be missing out on their perspectives. I decided to send a number of my friends a draft of this entry and allow them to respond, with their responses to be posted here. The blog entries that follow are the messages I received in reply. To those who contributed, thank you for giving my readers the benefit of your experience. If I left you off the list, and you would like to contribute to this discussion, I invite you to contact me.

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