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The End Game at the Security Council

Once again, Thomas Friedman talks sense in his latest editorial for the New York Times:

My main criticism of President Bush is that he has failed to acknowledge how unusual this war of choice is -- for both Americans and the world -- and therefore hasn't offered the bold policies that have to go with it. Instead, the president has hyped the threat and asserted that this is a war of no choice, then combined it all with his worst pre-9/11 business as usual: budget-busting tax cuts, indifference to global environmental concerns, a gas-guzzling energy policy, neglect of the Arab-Israeli peace process and bullying diplomacy...

Mr. President, before you shake the dice on a legitimate but audacious war, please, shake the dice just once on some courageous diplomacy. Pick up where Woodrow Wilson left off: fly to Paris, bring the leaders of France, Russia, China and Britain together, along with the chairman of the Arab League summit, and offer them any reasonable amount of time for more inspections -- if they will agree on specific disarmament benchmarks Saddam has to meet and support an automatic U.N. authorization of force if he doesn't. If France still snubs you, the world will see that you are the one trying to preserve collective security, while France only wants to make mischief. That will be very important to the legitimacy of any war.

In his Best of the Web Today column yesterday, James Taranto saw fit to label Friedman one of a group of "liberal hawks turn[ed] chicken":

Now that the liberation of Iraq seems imminent, several center-left commentators who previously backed it are calling for more delay. Mickey Kaus dubs them the "balking hawks." ...

The most charitable interpretation of this sudden hesitation is that our liberal friends are confused about ends and means...

There's a more cynical interpretation of the erstwhile hawks' change of heart. It may be that as partisan opponents of the president, they hope to deny him a success -- or to be able to say "I told you so" if something goes wrong in Iraq.

This is a ridiculous assertion in the case of Friedman, and Taranto should know it. (Have I become more "center-left," or has Taranto grown more partisan, more prone to throwing out red herrings, more prone to ad hominem attacks over the last year? I can't be sure.) Friedman has been and remains in favor of going to war, with or without unanimity on the Security Council, provided the US puts forth its best effort to obtain the support of its allies. In early February, he wrote (and I later blogged):

No question -- Saddam never would have let the U.N. inspectors back in had President Bush not unilaterally threatened force. But if Mr. Bush keeps conveying to China, France and Russia that he really doesn't care what they think and will go to war anyway, their impulse will be to never come along and just remain free riders.

The allies also have a willful blind spot. There is no way their preferred outcome, a peaceful solution, can come about unless Saddam is faced with a credible, unified threat of force. The French and others know that, and therefore their refusal to present Saddam with a threat only guarantees U.S. unilateralism and undermines the very U.N. structure that is the best vehicle for their managing U.S. power.

We need a compromise. We need to say to the French, Russians and Chinese that we'll stand down for a few more weeks and give Saddam one last chance to comply with the U.N. disarmament demands -- provided they agree now that if Saddam does not fully comply they will have the U.N. authorize the use of force.

Unfortunately, we didn't do this back then. Instead, we waited until March, and then offered an extremely short extension, and the French are balking. After a brilliant performance in securing Resolution 1441, the US has handled the end game at the Security Council incompetently.

Having said that, the French position is foolish and counterproductive. The UK is offering -- with the US reluctantly agreeing -- to negotiate an extension for Iraq to come into full compliance with 1441, along with a series of specific, measurable steps -- just as I proposed when I wrote:

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."
The French response is to say they will veto any resolution leading to automatic military action under any circumstances. Do they not see that this increases the likelihood of war? Can anyone argue with a straight face that Saddam Hussein has taken what steps he has toward disarmament for any reason other then the credible threat of US-led military action? France is attempting to take such military action off the table. The US knows this will be the end of any progress towards disarmament, and so has made it clear that, if it cannot reach agreement on a resolution with fellow Security Council members, it will take action on its own.

What is France's wish? To prevent war? It doesn't look like it. To disarm Iraq? It doesn't look like it. Or is the French wish simply to appear to wish to prevent war while disarming Iraq?

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