Friday, August 02, 2002

The new story that Iraq is preparing to invite weapons inspectors is extremely interesting, if true. Various news reports over the past few weeks have made it pretty clear that the United States was planning on using the non-compliance of Iraq to weapon inspections as their official reason for going into Iraq. Personally, this bothers me much less than the idea that the United States is simply going to charge in because they don't like Saddam- it harnesses the same multilateral reasoning that prompted and legitimized the Gulf War (Saddam broke the rules and is a clear threat to his neighbours) and that has been used now to delegitimize the impending invasion.

The question that always existed, of course, was whether Iraq knew this (as is almost undoubtedly true) and whether they can do anything about it. This would seem to be an answer to both, and a fairly subtle way of playing the U.S. against the U.N. If the inspectors come in and find nothing (whether through Iraqi duplicity or because there's nothing there), then the main argument that the United States uses to justify invading Iraq evaporates, as well as the best possible avenue for the United States to legitimize invasion and regime change. The U.N. won't agree that Saddam should be removed simply because he's Saddam- as I've mentioned earlier, neither the treaties that underpin the U.N. nor the international system going back to the Treaty of Westphalia supports those sorts of actions in any way, shape, or form. The United States needs more, and everybody knows it, including Iraq. That "extra oomph" is WMDs.

Even without that, however, the mere request somewhat harms the U.S. cause. If Iraq looks to be reasonable and willing to undergo inspection, then the U.N. will no doubt begin preparations to resume that inspection, and negotiations under which that inspection can take place. While those negotations and preparations are going on, however, the United States is in almost as bad a situation as it would be if Iraq was given a clean bill of health, because any invasion would be seen as the U.S. "jumping the gun"... attempting to invade before the inspections can (theoretically) show the falsehood of the stated reason for U.S. invasion. It doesn't matter whether it's actually false or not (and it's very likely that Saddam does indeed have these weapons). The point will be that the rest of the world and especially Security Council will see one nation possibly trying to "get their licks in" because they're afraid of what investigation will actually uncover.

It might show that somebody in the Iraqi government understands U.S. electoral politics. Iraq might be hoping that if the U.S. is stymied in its plans for invasion the blame for domestic troubles and for this inaction will come down squarely on the White House. This benefits Iraq enormously. If an invasion does happen, then it looks even more like Bush is wagging the dog and Iraq looks better to everybody outside the United States; whereas if the invasion doesn't happen, it could sink the Bush Administration, and the new president won't be one with a personal grudge against Iraq for the attempted assassination of a family member. In that case, Hussein (and his successors) will remain secure.

Of course, all this depends on the United States giving a whit about what the U.N. thinks, and whether the U.S. thinks that it can invade, conquer, and rebuild Iraq even in the face of international condemnation. I have no doubt that the warbloggers feel this way, and probably most of the White House staff- but it's pretty damned certain that this isn't the dominant viewpoint at State, and all those leaked documents imply that there's rather a lot of people at Defense who aren't too keen on the invasion either.

Me, I've always considered Iraq a seperate problem shoehorned into the "War on Terrorism" using this WMD shibboleth (as if there weren't other sources that disliked the United States), and I imagine that I'm not alone in this view. Iraq's attempts to eliminate the perception that Iraq is afraid of weapons inspectors will go a long way towards the adoption of this viewpoint in the world community, and perhaps even within the United States. Rest assured that if the invasion happens and goes badly, it'll probably grow more popular within the United States as well.

There may be legitimate reasons to invade Iraq, and WMDs might well be one... but it looks like the U.S. may have a hell of a time convincing anybody else of it.

Edit: Kevin at Leanleft agrees. Nice template, by the way.

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