George Bush Crosses the Rubicon
But What Lies Beyond?
by Robert Fisk
When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river, he wrote, in his Gallic Wars: "Alea iacta est [The die is cast]."
Just after 5pm yesterday, when the United Nations Security Council voted 15-0 to disarm Iraq, the US President George Bush crossed the Rubicon. "The world must insist that judgement must be enforced," he told us.
The Rubicon is a wide river. It was deep for Caesar's legions. The Tigris river will be more shallow – my guess is that the first American tanks will be across it within one week of war – but what lies beyond?
For Rome, civil war followed. And, be assured, civil war will follow any American invasion of Iraq. "Cheat and retreat will no longer be tolerated," Mr Bush told us yesterday – forgetting, of course, UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 which call for Israel to withdraw from the Arab territories occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
And after eight weeks of debate in the Security Council, no one mentioned the crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001, because – of course – Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with 11 September. If the United States invades Iraq, we should remember that.
And what do we get from Mr Bush? Absolutely no gesture towards the Arab world. The joy of the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, can be imagined. "Should we have to use troops," Mr Bush tells us, "the US, with friends, will move swiftly – with force – to do the job." In other words, he will invade Iraq, the "friends", presumably, being British. The United Nations can debate any Iraqi non-compliance with weapons inspectors, but the United States will decide whether Iraq has breached UN resolutions. In other words, America can declare war without UN permission.
So how many of the American tanks entering Baghdad will be flying UN pennants? None, I suspect.
The BBC, with CNN and all the other television networks, was last night billing Resolution 1441 as "the last chance" for Saddam Hussein. In fact, it is the "last chance" for the United Nations. As the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, said, the road ahead will be "difficult and dangerous". He can say that again.
It's easy to see the traps. America's UN ambassador, John Negroponte, insisted that the Security Council resolution "contains no hidden triggers". But of course it does. It allows the United States to decide if Iraq has opposed the resolution. It allows the Security Council to discuss non-compliance without restraining the United States from attacking Baghdad.
"One way or another," Mr Negroponte said, "Iraq will be disarmed". It's the "another" way that the UN should be worried about. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's nightmare headmaster at the UN, performed appropriately. "Crystal clear", "unequivocal choice", "serious consequences", "ambiguous modalities". You could almost feel the cane. No mention, of course, of the CIA's manipulation of the last team of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq.
Iraqis want peace and an end to sanctions – let's forget President Saddam for a moment – and President Bush seems to want war. So Mr Bush must be praying that the Iraqi President does something to obstruct the UN arms inspectors. In which case – I quote Mr Bush – "we will act in the interest of the world". Thanks George. And thanks Saddam if this feckless, vicious dictator chooses to defy the UN.
Washington wants a UN fig leaf for a war on Iraq and is willing to go through an inspection process in the hope that Iraq obstructs it. Mr Annan was talking yesterday about the "unique legitimacy of the UN". But the cruel dictator of Baghdad cares as much about that as President Bush.
Robert Fisk is an award winning foreign correspondent for The Independent (UK), where this article first appeared. He is the author of Pity Thy Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon (The Nation Books, 2002 edition)