Friday, February 21, 2003

It's not surprise that Powell has said that if Hussein leaves Iraq there won't be a war. This entire conflict has become extraordinarily personalized, with Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush ending up as personifications of the broader economic and strategic conflicts that both underpin and define this threatened war.

(No, I'm not referring to "root causes", but at the same time even hardcore warbloggers will acknowledge that this isn't just about getting rid of Hussein. It's a nice party line, but let's be realistic here.)

It's pretty clear that this is an empty promise. The United States has a lot to lose by not going into Iraq, and no guarantee that Saddam's leaving would ameliorate matters in the slightest. The person that takes over could be just as bad or even worse, and that would damage the credibility that the United States has staked on this war, thanks to the "save the Iraqi people" line that has been trotted out to justify the invasion. It doesn't matter, however, because I doubt that the U.S. government or Powell specifically actually thinks that Saddam would leave.

What is surprising was mentioned later in the Times story:

Bracing for a showdown at the United Nations, the United States and Britain plan to present a new resolution to the Security Council on Monday in a bid to gain support for using force to disarm Iraq.

The move runs against strong sentiment within the council that force as an option should be set aside for further inspections at least until U.N. inspectors file a new report of their findings.

The two allies evidently are willing to risk diplomatic defeat. But President Bush has vowed to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein one way or another -- with U.N. support or with the help of a ``coalition of the willing.''
The intrinsically amusing "coalition of the willing" aside (as coalitions are normally made up of willing countries), I have to admit some surprise. I had figured that the British and American governments would have held off introduction of this resolution until they had either killed or weakened the French/German initiative, which is much more likely to gain Security Council support. It's almost certain that the resolution won't change very much, and the rhetoric from the U.S. implies that the Bush administration has little use for or desire for U.N. support. It never really has, of course, because asking for that support has always entailed the possibility that the Security Council would say "no". What was desired was a rubber stamp in order to get the skittish public and non-client allies onside, not real legitimacy. Without that rubber stamp, the Bush administration and their satellites are returning to their unilateralist roots and to getting ready to do what they were going to do anyway, even before the September 11 attacks were a gleam in the eye of Osama Bin Laden: invade Iraq.

The only question now is whether or not the relationship between the U.N. and U.S. will survive this. Not the U.N. itself, which is far bigger than this one conflict and whose legitimacy does not rest on the Bush administration's forbearance, but the relationship between the U.S. and the U.N. Said relationship has been rocky, but it's held together and even strengthened, but that appears over now. It's also yet another chapter in the decaying balance between American hegemony and the international multilateral institutions, institutions that inspire such loathing in the neoconservatives that underpin this administration.

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