by Phyllis Bennis
March 6, 2003
Around the world Bush's war is as much the object of derision as it is the target of a newly empowered global opposition movement. Hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters continue to fill the streets, particularly in the capitals whose support is most crucial to White House and Pentagon plans -- Turkey, the Philippines, Pakistan, Egypt. Mainstream media outlets are describing unease, fear of humiliation within the administration. The pope is telling Bush that God is not on his side.
The escalating pace of the war drive is starting to show up in the foolish (as opposed to the strategic) lies put forward by top Bush administration officials. Ari Fleischer's latest gaffe (claiming that Iraq had denied ever having Samoud-2 missiles and therefore how could you believe that they're being destroyed, when in fact Baghdad itself announced the existence of the missiles in their December 7 declaration, and the destruction now is under the watchful eye of UN inspectors) is part of this process. So is the recent leak regarding the NSA bugging the offices of Security Council diplomats.
There is unbalance at the top, despite the unswerving military build-up and unequivocal war cries under the control of the Bush ideologues -- Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, etc. Powell reemerged from his undisclosed location to challenge, in a Radio France International interview, Fleischer's claim that both disarmament AND regime change were required. The second in command of the U.S. embassy in Greece resigned with a powerful statement of opposition to U.S. arrogance, war and empire, potentially the first among many more.
Tony Blair still needs a second resolution more than anyone else, but increasingly it is becoming doubtful he will get one. (And without Tony Blair and the UK, any U.S. "coalition" starts to look pretty lame.) Despite the intense pressure, lucrative bribes and frightening threats characterizing current U.S. "diplomacy" at the United Nations, Washington can still claim only the same four votes it had weeks ago when it began its crusade for a second resolution. Offers of billions of dollars AND control of half of northern Iraq weren't enough to bring Turkey on board (while the Turkish military is eager for the deal since it would increase their authority in the country, the new government is not looking forward to giving the powerful military even more influence). Fear of losing their long-negotiated free trade agreement and potential arrangement on immigration wasn't enough to force Chile's and Mexico's hand. The threat of losing Africa Growth & Opportunity Act aid by "undermining U.S. foreign policy interests" with a negative vote hasn't been enough so far to frighten Cameroon and Guinea. France (seriously) and Russia (probably for show, but still) are both asserting their intention to at least consider vetoing the resolution if the U.S.-UK position gains the critical nine votes. On March 4th the BBC reported that if there is a veto, France, Russia and China will veto together; that would undermine Washington's goal of isolating France by persuading Russia and China first, leaving France on its own. And the newly public debate over the consequences of expanding NATO and the European Union to include the pro-U.S. countries of "new Europe" has reinvigorated reconsideration of Europe's role as a counter-weight to U.S. power.
The New York Times was right: there are once again two superpowers in the world: the United States, and global public opinion. The battle is joined.
Massive mobilization must continue, under the demand that "the world says no to war."
The timeline will likely be as follows:
Friday, 7 March -- Blix and el Baradei present their next report to the Council. It is likely Blix's report will be nuanced and ambiguous, recognizing and perhaps even praising recent Iraqi moves towards greater compliance (destruction of the missiles, scientists interviewed in private, continued cooperation on access, etc.), while re-stating that Iraq has not yet fully complied. A strongly critical report, while very unlikely, could set in motion a very different scenario.
Monday or Tuesday, 10 or 11 March -- the U.S. will begin a final vote count behind the scenes. If they calculate that they have found nine votes, they will call for a rapid vote on the new resolution submitted last week; if they do not have nine votes, they will withdraw the resolution. Although they will not allow a vote in which they would publicly fail to win the minimum nine-vote support, it is possible Washington may be prepared to go forward with a vote even under threat of a French (or, much less likely, French and Russian) veto. The thinking would be that it would be easy to dismiss a French veto as being driven by competitiveness in Europe, French arrogance, etc., and that it simply proves France, not the U.S., is out of step with the rest of the world. So the resolution would still fail, but Washington would claim the moral victory of having a majority on the Council. The voting may be delayed till the end of the week, but is unlikely to go much past that.
Friday or Monday, 14 or 17 March -- if the decision for war is final, Bush will likely make some announcement by this time. Some among Bush's ideologues would likely prefer to go to war without the United Nations -- viewing the price of international opprobrium as worth the advantage of asserting the legitimacy of U.S. unilateralism once and for all.
Possible compromise-- This war is still not inevitable. It is still possible that diminishing support, and the weight of public opinion -- the second super-power -- will convince the Bush administration to pull back from the brink. If the pragmatists in the administration (whoever they are these days) interested in re-election, win out over those driven by conquest and empire, there is still the possibility of a last-minute face-saving way out. They are likely all weighing the statement yesterday of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who said, "We have never been as isolated globally, literally never, since 1945."
U.S. isolation, dropping poll numbers, allied opposition, military problems particularly after Turkey's rebuff -- all could lead to new openness in Washington to a stand-down if face-saving could be insured. While the chances of averting this war are tiny, and growing even smaller by the day, they are not completely absent. The possibility of the second super-power, global public opinion, defeating the United States, remains alive.
The earlier Canadian compromise proposal, though rejected by Washington, is still in play, and back-channel indications are that the U.S. rejection was not as definitive as it was presented. There is also a Russian compromise initiative underway.
The form could be either a new resolution, or more likely, a Council presidential statement. A statement could not be taken under Chapter VII of the Charter (required to authorize force) and does not carry the same force of law as a resolution, but it does require a unanimous Council decision and therefore provides international political cover. At this moment, the components of a possible face-saving package to avert war will likely include some version of the following, reflecting parts of both the Canadian and Russian efforts.
1) Extension of the time, and intensification of the intrusiveness of inspections. An end date for the inspection process would be set, probably between the end of April and early June. Bush would say that his victory is that he "got the UN to act" through deployment of U.S. military force, and that now forced inspections made possible regime change in Iraq without war. 2) The U.S. and UK agree that if the final UNMOVIC/IAEA reports indicate that Iraq is in full compliance, they will agree to pull back and lift the economic sanctions. (France and Russia insisted on this provision.) France and Russia agree that if the final reports indicate continuing problems with Iraq's compliance, that "automaticity" will prevail and war against Iraq will be accepted without any further resolutions. 3) Deployment of UN blue helmets, ostensibly to secure the inspection regime. (Details have remained obscure -- how many, what mandate, would they go in before the final reports or after, etc. The role appears to be much more political than military, reflecting the political need of all sides to appear tough on Iraq.) 4) Unofficial agreement, not in writing but with a clear understanding of the parties, that Saddam Hussein would have to leave power, most likely but not certainly going into exile. Face-saving for Saddam Hussein would be based on an announcement about "accountability to the increasing chorus of opinion in the Arab world." or something like that.
Key Pressure points -- besides the mobilizations already underway
1) Publicize the outrage of U.S. spying on UN missions, as well as the brutal arm-twisting, bribes and threats characterizing the current round of "persuasion" to win Council approval and/or create a "coalition of the coerced". Keep up the pressure and thanks to the representatives of the key governments-- embassies, consulates, trade missions, cultural centers, etc. Thanks to Germany and especially vive la France! "Keep it up" to Mexico, Chile and Pakistan -- delay is good, the longer they refuse to commit to one side or the other, the better; if Washington punishes them with trade-related sanctions, we'll launch "Buy Chilean" and "Buy Mexican" campaigns to compensate. "We know you're under pressure, we're with you, the Non-Aligned Movement is behind you, you're the symbols of African independence" to Cameroon, Guinea, Angola.
2) Broaden the circle of identified opposition -- including political leadership beyond the Beltway. The goal is to discredit the administration, undermining the credibility of their war. Cities for Peace campaigns -- there are now almost 300 cities involved in the campaign, over 124 have already passed resolutions -- keep expanding the network. If your city has already passed a resolution, move to your county or state, or into major institutions within the cities (universities, inter-faith councils, professional organizations, etc.) for new resolutions. Letters to the editor, statements, ads, sign-on letters, etc. from political, cultural, business, sports, financial, academic elites . Keep the pressure on the mainstream media -- divisions re-emerging, take advantage of them. Keep asking questions -- why is there not more coverage of Bush/Powell/Blair etc assertions about the importance of Hussein Kamal's "revelations" of Iraq's "unaccounted for" WMDs when it turns out he told UNSCOM and the CIA that Iraq had in fact destroyed all the weapons? Why isn't there more discussion of Powell's reliance on the "fine document" in his UN speech, when referring to the British dossier of Iraqi atrocities that turned out to be plagiarized from a California graduate student's on-line paper? With all the journalists "embedded" into U.S. military units, why are we hearing nothing from journalists already functioning on their own inside Iraq -- particularly about the consequences of the war build-up on vulnerable Iraqi civilians?
3) Keep up the pressure on Congress -- Urge members to sign the most recent Dear Colleague letters, as well as to support the pending legislation to repeal the congressional authorization for war, and to demand that the White House answer key questions before launching war.
Phyllis Bennis is the author of Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s UN (Olive Branch Press, 1996) and Before and After: US Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis (Olive Branch Press, 2002). She is a Middle East analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org) and a senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org