the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world











2003 January 21


The retort about Iraq’s last chance to cooperate is so familiar that it is almost losing its force. Is this the last last chance? Is it the next-to-last last chance? Is it somewhere in the middle of a series of last chances? What relationship does it have to the previous last chance? It was an obvious thing to say the second time Iraq was given a last chance, and that was many, many last chances ago. At the very least, the expression ‘last chance’ has lost its force. We all know, and Iraq certainly knows, that there is no longer any such thing. There will always be another.

Past admissions by the Iraqi government itself have established firmly that Iraq has the capability to produce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, has actually produced the first two, and has actually used the first. There is no reason but Saddam’s assurance to believe that these programs no longer exist.

George Bush and the hawks in his administration have been totally outmaneuvered in the diplomatic process, and this was probably something they expected and submitted to for domestic political and military tactical reasons. The substance of the previous last chance, extended unanimously by the Security Council to postpone US military action, was that Iraq declare absolutely everything about its current weapons programs, allow those to be dismantled, and provide proof of the claimed destruction of materials known to be in its possession relating to earlier programs. It has cooperated on none of these so far. And yet chief UN chemical and biological weapons inspector Hans Blix and his nuclear counterpart Mohamed ElBaradei have visited Baghdad to negotiate a new plan for cooperation as, of course, a last chance.

Those calling for inspections to be allowed to work are ignoring recent history. Inspections have been tried, over and over, and always Iraq has employed the same tactics to defeat them. This recent last chance was meant to be final, and Iraq has already failed. It has already withheld information and caused information to be withheld. Under penalty of war, Iraq was supposed to reveal everything, and when it revealed nothing it made even the tiniest find evidence of non-compliance. Iraq’s biological weapons program took four years to discover under the last inspections regime. That is how long Saddam can hide something. It has been more than four years since the first inspections ended. Should we give him another four years and see what he can come up with?

Among Iraq’s current acts of interference is a silencing of individuals who have knowledge of the various programs, despite assurances that it would not. Blix has a powerful tool in his repertoire, placed there particularly because it is irreplaceable. He can take any source, especially a scientist, and the source’s family, out of the country. This condition is necessary if any of these sources is to speak freely and thus crack the regime’s wall of deception. But Blix refuses to use this tool at all, saying that he won’t be in the business of defection. And why not? Why does he suppose that allowing even one or two families to live free of Saddam’s brutality would not be a good thing? Beyond that, if he doesn’t use the tool, he cannot achieve the goal of learning all there is to know about Iraq’s programs.

Blix is a good living example of the Genevan concept of neutrality, which I find morally shallow and dishonorable. The Swiss state, and its most famous offspring, the Red Cross, claim to distinguish between moral neutrality, which they deny, and operational neutrality, which means in practice that they will treat all sides as equal and equivalent while winking at a moral standard in supposed endorsement. I don’t know anything about Hans Blix as a person, or his predecessor Richard Butler for that matter, but in their public roles as weapons inspectors, I rate Butler a hero and Blix a collaborator. Butler made no secret of his partisanship in declaring that Saddam should be disarmed and should not, under any circumstances, be trusted. That is exactly the right stance to take, partisanship of the right party. Blix, by contrast, seems to be working to disarm Iraq reluctantly, because it is a role that someone needed to fill, and in that role is doing everything he can to drag the process out, to excuse Saddam, to give yet another last chance.

Hans Blix is perhaps not to be blamed, since that would seem to be the job he was hired to do. The true parties to fault for the current arrangement are France and Russia, and it is well recognized why they are acting thus. From the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, they have blocked virtually every effort to impact the behavior of the Baathist regime. Any policy supported by both François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac is suspicious; any policy supported by both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin is very suspicious. And taking the four of them together I do not think it is possible to say that the opposition of France and Russia to sanctions and invasion is anything other than Realpolitik. France and Russia have been cutting deals with Iraq on all manner of things, particularly oil-related. Sanctions are therefore not in their economic interest, war would not be, and the replacement of the Iraqi regime would most definitely not be, since dealings with Saddam are likely to be cancelled and, moreover, viewed as condemnatory by any democratic, hence Shiite-controlled, government in Baghdad.

In 1998 France deliberately suppressed its own conclusion that Iraq had weaponized VX, a superlative nerve agent. Iraq had produced the worst chemical weapon, stabilized it, and mounted it on warheads; it had originally denied this, and then made a series of gradual admissions of only what evidence was already able to prove. But for the work of Butler and his team, there would have been no admission; and France, which was then working hard to remove sanctions, was attempting to skew the process, hoping that sanctions would be lifted on the grounds of Iraq’s full disarmament when it knew the opposite to be true. And here is what we know of present status: Iraq has admitted to having, claimed to have destroyed, and yet not offered any evidence of having destroyed, 26000 liters of anthrax, 1.5 tons of VX, and twelve Scud missiles. Destroying anthrax and VX is not like taking out the trash; they’d have kept records. Nothing to worry about?

The game right now, apparently, is to pretend in public to believe that the inspections will serve some purpose, or that Iraq may not have weapons programs, or that sanctions and not Saddam are responsible for the starvation in Iraq, regardless of how obvious the contrary may be, because this is required to avoid a war. Though I disagree with those pacifists who sincerely believe that war is the worst possible evil and must be avoided at all costs, I do believe that they are acting according to their best wisdom. These opponents of war feel that they have been forced into a corner, where they cannot simultaneously distrust Saddam’s regime and oppose Bush’s war against it. Or, to use an apropos metaphor, they have confessed under torture. Peace activists are trapped, they believe, by this form of duress: “If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, you will have consented to war with Iraq: Does Saddam have nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons? Is he actively deceiving the UN about his weapons programs? Has he thwarted the oil-for-food program to win points with the international public?”

Unfortunately, some peace activists excuse Saddam on the same grounds of duress. His regime did agree to disarm and to submit to inspections, but only as a condition of ending the Gulf War and lifting economic sanctions. It did blatantly lie when, in December, it claimed to have absolutely no weapons of mass destruction, but only because to admit to the programs then would have added more justification to an invasion. But Saddam was not a victim of torture; he is in fact a torturer himself, so I feel little sympathy for him.

The anti-war movement is, as liberals are increasingly acknowledging, being organized by those whose principles and positions are deplorable. The leading organizations are ANSWER and Not In Our Name. Not In Our Name is a project of Refuse & Resist, itself a project (some prefer the term ‘front group’) of a Maoist party that supports ruthless insurgencies up to and including Peru’s Shining Path. ANSWER is a project of the International Action Center, perhaps the West’s best example of vacuous radicalism, lionizing tyrants like Saddam and Milosevic solely because they are targets of US foreign policy. There are those who think it worthwhile to join forces with a broad alliance during an important cause; but I like my anti-imperialism to be consistent, and if Mao, Milosevic, and, yes, Saddam, are not imperialists, no one is.

Of those who complain of Bush’s unilateral approach to Iraq, I’ll follow Christopher Hitchens by asking exactly when and for what reason multilateralism became a necessity, or unilateralism an indisputable evil. Regardless of what I think of Barry Goldwater’s politics, he was right to say that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice no virtue. Unilateralism in the pursuit of justice is no vice, and multilateralism in the defense of tyranny is no virtue.

Since I am exhausted with the debates on terrorism, consider instead an element of “terrorism” that has been familiar on its own terms for much longer: hostage-taking. The hostage-taker presents us with a choice: pay the ransom or take responsibility for the death of the hostage. The issues involved are well-established. First, even though the real responsibility lies with the hostage-taker, we cannot help but feel some responsibility ourselves, and know well that we will feel guilty should we withhold the ransom and witness the death of the hostage. Second, paying the ransom in one case merely proves to others that hostage-taking works, and encourages more hostage-taking. Third, the decision to pay the ransom or not must be based on an assessment of the hostage-taker itself: is it reliable (will not kill the hostage after the ransom is paid), ruthless (will kill the hostage if the ransom is not paid), sane (will not kill the hostage at the cost of its own life)? Fourth, freeing the hostage without paying the ransom often involves risk to the hostage, and almost always the death of the hostage-taker, and this option is not available to us if we are reluctant on either point.

The hostage in this case, just to be unambiguous, is the suffering people of Iraq. The knife at the hostage’s throat is not just the threat of direct attack (as in Halabja) but the denial of the necessities of life, which Iraq can afford but chooses not to. Standing down the war and lifting the sanctions is the equivalent of paying the ransom and not securing the release of the hostage, and it will lead to exactly what we should expect, the taking of yet another hostage. Specifically, it will mean that Saddam will build a nuclear missile and take Israel hostage. We will then be exactly where we are with North Korea. The reason we don’t invade or even bomb North Korea at this point is because Kim Jong Il can destroy Seoul, and we suppose that he would.

If the bombing of Tel-Aviv seems unlikely, consider that the necessities of life, food, medicine, et alia, are not under sanction even now. Those calling for the lifting of sanctions are targeting dual-use technologies, which is essentially the end of any possibility of containment. We will allow Saddam to purchase anything he wants as long as it has so much as one obscure non-military use. (Need I address those who want sanctions ended even on single-use military items?) Since he has scientists who know how to make weapons, and practically limitless (for his lifetime) oil reserves, there would be nothing to stop him. Even the autarkic Kim has produced nuclear bombs; imagine a free-trading, free-spending Saddam.

If George Bush does overthrow the current rulers ― all of them ― in Iraq, he will have at least this as his legacy: when he took office, the two most appalling, cruel, tyrannical regimes in the world, in no particular order, were the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the Baathists in Iraq. When he leaves office, they will both be gone. Let us hope that his departure will be at the next available opportunity, and that his replacement cares more for liberal democracy, is willing to invest as much to bring democracy and freedom to Afghanistan and Iraq as George Bush was to ... well, who knows what exactly Bush is trying to achieve? Certainly not democracy, considering that he was willing to accept government by tribal elders and warlords in Afghanistan, and is willing to accept a coup in Iraq. It will not be progress in Iraq if the Tikritis, the Baathists, the military, or the Sunnis remain in charge. It will not be progress if Saddam and his sons retire to a villa on the Mediterranean while their henchmen run Iraq. And anything that seems like an acceptable solution to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Syria together ought to be at least a little suspect. But in its desire to avoid war at all costs, the anti-war camp is embracing not only the last chance of inspections but also the last last chance of a coup. We in the United States should know better than to bank on a change of personnel: if George Bush were to resign, his replacement would be further to the right and three times smarter. What would that get us?

So what it comes down to is that, while we suppose that the Bush administration is nefarious and deceptive, we must acknowledge that the Iraqi regime is much more nefarious and much more deceptive, and that we, if not exactly nefarious, are pretty well deceiving ourselves.


Original version


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