Thursday, January 23, 2003

So, why exactly are we going to war on Iraq? Tom Friedman has an answer. Condi Rice has another. Tom seems to think that Condi's is just flat wrong; Condi doesn't talk much about Tom's directly, but she certainly isn't acting like someone who takes much stock in it.

Since she speaks for the warmongers themselves, let's start with Condi:

Eleven weeks after the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution demanding --- yet again --- that Iraq disclose and disarm all its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs, it is appropriate to ask, "Has Saddam Hussein finally decided to voluntarily disarm?" Unfortunately, the answer is a clear and resounding no.

There is no mystery to voluntary disarmament. Countries that decide to disarm lead inspectors to weapons and production sites, answer questions before they are asked, state publicly and often the intention to disarm and urge their citizens to cooperate. The world knows from examples set by South Africa, Ukraine and Kazakhstan what it looks like when a government decides that it will cooperatively give up its weapons of mass destruction. The critical common elements of these efforts include a high-level political commitment to disarm, national initiatives to dismantle weapons programs, and full cooperation and transparency.

In 1989 South Africa made the strategic decision to dismantle its covert nuclear weapons program. It destroyed its arsenal of seven weapons and later submitted to rigorous verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Inspectors were given complete access to all nuclear facilities (operating and defunct) and the people who worked there. They were also presented with thousands of documents detailing, for example, the daily operation of uranium enrichment facilities as well as the construction and dismantling of specific weapons.

In short, the South Africans had their paperwork in order. The Iraqis do not. Therefore, the army's on the march.

To be fair, Iraq's cooperation with the inspections regime has in fact been grudging at best. And there are troubling gaps in their declarations (or at least, the edited versions which the United States finally released to the rest of the Security Council) --- it doesn't say, for instance, where all the biological war materiel which we know they had at one point actually went. And Condi makes the most of that.

But her argument, at best, shows that there is a problem. She doesn't even try to argue that the right solution to that problem is an immediate attack with 150,000 American troops, no matter how many promises we have to break or how many alliances we sunder in the process, nor how badly we will piss off people around the world whose cooperation may be needed for the next crisis.

Besides, given the fuss the Americans made over a dozen empty warheads in a box, the current Iraqi regime has every reason to believe that if they described how the stuff was destroyed, it would just be called more lies, and if they did lead the inspectors to really substantial stocks of war materiel (if they even exist!), Dubya's crew would point to that as the long-sought concrete evidence of WMD programs justifying an attack. They really can't win.

Saddam may retain the relics of an active weapons program --- or he may not. (And we still have nothing to show skeptics around the planet who suspect he doesn't, and that the United States is grabbing oil fields on a pretext). But that's different from having a program that's in full force. Which brings us to Friedman, who just takes it as a given that:

... what really threatens open, Western, liberal societies today is not Saddam and his weapons per se. He is a twisted dictator who is deterrable through conventional means. Because Saddam loves life more than he hates us.

So, Friedman thinks the administration's official case just doesn't make sense. If an attack is to be justfied at all, then in his view, "Regime change is the prize". Why?

What threatens Western societies today are not the deterrables, like Saddam, but the undeterrables --- the boys who did 9/11, who hate us more than they love life. It's these human missiles of mass destruction that could really destroy our open society.

So then the question is: What is the cement mixer that is churning out these undeterrables --- these angry, humiliated and often unemployed Muslim youth? That cement mixer is a collection of faltering Arab states, which, as the U.N.'s Arab Human Development Report noted, have fallen so far behind the world their combined G.D.P. does not equal that of Spain. And the reason they have fallen behind can be traced to their lack of three things: freedom, modern education and women's empowerment. ...

It is not unreasonable to believe that if the U.S. removed Saddam and helped Iraqis build not an overnight democracy but a more accountable, progressive and democratizing regime, it would have a positive, transforming effect on the entire Arab world --- a region desperately in need of a progressive model that works.

That's the New York Times' resident Deep Thinker, studiously ignoring the role of the United States' current allies in stoking up anti-Western jihaddi war fever, from the state-sponsored mullahs of Saudi Arabia, to the sponsors of the Taliban and Kashmiri separatists in the Pakistani ISI. Nor, it seems does he take much notice of last Sunday's declarations from Powell, Rumsfeld, and of course, Ms. Rice that an indigenous coup leaving another strongman in power would be perfectly fine with them. Whatever is motivating Dubya's crew, they are not burning to create a beacon of democracy.

Besides, mere exposure to Western ways of doing things does not damp the fervor of the Muslim fanatics that Friedman wants to control. Remember that Al-Qaeda has actually had success recruiting from Muslims who have lived in Western democracies all their lives. (Remember Richard Reid?) As far as Al-Qaeda is concerned, they are explicitly fighting a clash of cultures. They aren't fighting because they want democracy. They're fighting because they want their own brand of vicious theocratic dictatorship.

That means, among other things, that no matter what the United States occupying army does in Iraq, Islamist propagandists will have a field day portraying them as colonial overlords, and trumpeting American disrespect for Muslim culture (which they will be sure to find --- remember how appalled the Saudis are by female troops?) As lefty bloggers have been pointing out for months, an American puppet regime in Iraq is what Osama bin Laden wants. Simply as a government, it would be no more objectionable to him than the current, largely secular Baathist regime, which he already regards as an enemy. And it would be an endless source of useful propaganda. A more powerful recruiting tool would be difficult to imagine.

Aside from a naked oil grab, the WMD case for attack is the only one that makes even a glimmer of sense. And as in North Korea (which has been rather less cooperative with their own inspections regime of late) the sane course of action in dealing with the WMD problem would be to keep up the pressure, and let the inspectors do their work.

The war starts in February.


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