Monday, September 16, 2002

Ok, the more time goes on the more it looks like everybody is trying to find an "out" to this international impasse over Iraq. One step in that was taken today by Saudi Arabia, which said in today'sNYTimes that:

The Saudi foreign minister indicated this weekend that his country would let the United States use its military bases in a United Nations-backed attack on Iraq, a sign that Arab nations may be dropping their resistance to an attack on Saddam Hussein.

The Saudi minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said that if there was a Security Council resolution backing military action, all United Nations members would have to honor it. In a CNN interview from New York, first broadcast late Saturday, the prince was asked if the Saudis would make bases available to the Americans, and answered that if the United Nations warranted action, "everybody is obliged to follow through."

Prince Saud said he remained opposed in principle to the use of military force or a unilateral attack by the United States, but his remarks seemed to indicate an important shift in Saudi Arabia's posture.
There's a couple of related things here that I'd like to tease out.

First, of course, is who's saying this. The House of Saud has a bad rep in the U.S. nowadays and is obviously anxious to repair it before they're targeted themselves, but they can't look like they're just throwing over to the U.S. or they'll be seen as Bush's lapdogs by most of the Middle East. The "U.N. resolution" angle provides a perfect opportunity to them- they can look helpful to the U.S. while at the same time showing their commitment to the international system, to the U.N., to multilateralism and to the concept of "an Arab say in what's going on".

Second is the question of who's going to take credit for this thing. Some (usually neo-cons and wingers) are already saying that the international warming towards the U.S. that followed the Bush speech is due to his brilliant oration and "if you don't do what we say, you're irrelevant" posturing. To an extent this might be correct, but I think some credit is also due the critics of the unilateralism. Whether or not he was really reaching out to the body, Bush definitely gave a nod towards the importance of international action that he wasn't about to a few months ago. Even if the administration should get some credit for having rethought its position, the reality is that said rethinking is due to the critics that have already come forward. Frankly, as long as this thing end without Baghdad as rubble and Iraq littered with corpses, then I don't care who takes the credit.

Third is the question of what happens next. It would appear that Iraq is willing to let inspectors in, and that means both good things and bad things for multiple sides. It isn't surprising that they've relented; thanks to the U.S. finally getting on board with the U.N. (or vice versa), Iraq is finding itself without much in the way of support, and there never really was much support for the notion of an inspection-free Iraq in the first place, just the importance of respecting national sovereignty. If a successful inspection regime is implemented, then the Bushistas will try to take the credit and may even succeed... but there will be precious little reason to go to war with Iraq, and all the related strategic goals that would be aided by American control of Iraq will disappear. Indeed, an Iraq without WMDs is an Iraq without sanctions, and an Iraq without sanctions is an Iraq that is free to eventually rebuild itself into a regional power using conventional armaments. (Perhaps this rebuilding need not happen right away... Iraq might first rebuild its economy and then only later actually rearm when the region becomes somewhat more stable.. when the "heat dies down", so to speak.) If Saddam were wise, he would submit to the inspections now without any trouble at all and bide his time, as it would cement his presence, develop some "good will" on the part of several regimes, allow Russia to trade with Iraq without American intransigence, keep his regime intact, and frustrate American designs upon Iraq.

Of course, while Saddam isn't mad, I have severe doubts that he could be characterized as "wise".

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