Slowing the War Momentum
Jude Wanniski
September 23, 2002


The most important development I could see in the Sunday talk shows was the sense that the rush to war with Iraq had been slowed considerably by Baghdad`s offer to have the UN inspectors return and look anywhere they wish for weapons of mass destruction. Yes, there will be a congressional resolution supporting the President if he deems it necessary to oust Saddam`s regime by force, but the language of the resolution will not be as broad as the White House wishes. The Democrats have been unwilling to confront the President and his hawkish advisors directly on his demands, especially those who have been lining up to seek the presidential nomination in 2004. But Chairman Jospeh Biden of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the single most important Democrat in Congress when it comes to processing these matters, is not running for President and is not up for re-election this year. He told Wolf Blitzer that he had spent several hours with the Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov last Friday and come away with a determination to devote his entire focus to the issue of weapons of mass destruction. That is, he said, he would put aside the issues of "pre-emptive" strikes and "regime change" that have crept into President Bush`s agenda and help craft language in both the congressional resolution and in the United Nations resolution that would make the world safe from Iraqi WMD.

Biden also noted that a go-it-alone invasion might draw Israel into a war with Iraq and lead to a wider Middle East war that would pit the U.S. and Israel against the Arab/Islamic world. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on Senate Intelligence, rarely says anything on the talk shows that is not bellicose. This week he also acknowledged that the consequences of a unilateral war with Iraq might make life difficult for the people of Israel. There are very few vocal opponents of an Iraqi war in the Congress, but there are also very few vocal advocates. The perfect example of where Congress seems to be right now is Chairman Henry Hyde of the House International Affairs Committee, who was on the Blitzer show with Biden. The genial Republican said he supported the resolution the President asked for and would begin marking it up in his committee later this week, but he allowed as to how there would probably have to be a few changes in the wording to make it acceptable to those who have problems with it. Hyde then said something about his Democratic counterpart in the Senate that I agreed with completely, but never expected to hear from a Republican: “The President is lucky to have Joe Biden as chairman of Foreign Relations.” In other words, I can’t voice my concerns as easily as Biden can because the President is my party’s leader.

By going as far as he did on the talk shows, Biden has opened up opportunities for other Democrats and Republicans in Congress to express the concerns of their constituents – which was another clear theme of the talk shows. Once Baghdad said it would allow inspectors to return without conditions, to look wherever they wish and talk to anyone they wish, public opinion has steadily shifted away from precipitous action. With congressional elections only six weeks away, with possibilities of both Senate and House going either way, Republicans are nervous about sounding hawkish and Democrats are nervous about sounding dovish. The hawks tried to make a big deal about Saddam announcing that he will reject any UN resolution that goes beyond what he had agreed to with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. There does, though, seem to be a need for a new UN Security Council resolution, if only to address the concerns of those who would like to see the issue foreclosed once and for all, a dozen years after the Gulf War. If there is no point at which the UNMOVIC inspectors and those of the International Atomic Energy Agency can certify that Iraq is not a threat and will not become a threat, the U.S. can continue to insist on the sanctions. If there are two UN resolutions, one relating to compliance, the second relating to post-compliance, there can be a clear light at the end of the inspection tunnel.

Of course, the White House war planners know this is what seems to be logical flow of events, unless they can somehow figure out how to block inspections. Secretary of State Colin Powell now seems to be agreeing the inspectors must be blocked until a resolution the U.S. supports is passed, which leaves open the idea of unilateral action if the U.S. insists on a resolution which the Security Council will never vote for. At some point, though, the American electorate should wonder why diplomacy is not being given one more chance to work. How they see these issues when they go the polls in November can upset the war planners. Yesterday’s elections in Germany, a narrow win for incumbent Gerhard Schroeder’s government, would have been impossible if he had not taken a hard-line against war.  Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today seems to imply the U.S. will find a way to punish Germany for the way its citizens voted. It is getting mean out there.     

Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Council and the intellectual leader of the warhawks, is actually spreading the word on Wall Street that Iraq will be invaded sometime after the elections and before the end of the year. That’s always been his hope, that President Bush will be able to tell the nation in his January State of the Union speech that one of the “axis of evil” has been eliminated and the nation is now secure from Saddam Hussein’s regime. How Perle is allowed to keep his security clearance and run around blabbing like this is beyond me. But it is certainly not helping equity values, knowing this is the fellow who counsels the Vice President, the Defense Secretary, and National Security Advisor, and a network of neo-conservative hawks in politics and journalism. He can’t be talking out of his hat.

Of great importance in the weeks before the elections will be the discussions within the American Jewish community. In that sense, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, a Jewish Democrat, may be even more important in the equations than Senator Biden. On "FoxNewsSunday," Levin totally rejected the hawk approach of telling the UN that unless it gives us what we want, we will go it alone: 

SNOW: What about a resolution of the type the president seeks? You`ve talked about a resolution urging the U.N. to act. The president wants a resolution authorizing the use of force. What about that? Should that wait until the U.N. first acts?

LEVIN: No, I think what we should do is support the president`s request to the U.N. You know, he says he wants the U.N. to be credible. And if we really are serious about that, we should urge the U.N. to act and not tell them that we don`t care whether you act or, regardless of what you do, we`re going to go it alone. That is not the way to put the pressure on the U.N. to act, in my judgment. As a matter of fact, it takes the U.N. off the hook.

Levin is clearly weighing the risks to Israel, which seem of no concern to the hawks in Tel Aviv or those in the Bush administration. To them war with Iraq will be all upside for Israel. I’ve had to point out that for six weeks there were no suicide bombers in Israel, and that peace broke when the Israeli government, from left to right, publicly urged President Bush to invade Iraq as soon as possible. If Bush invades Iraq without a broad Arab/Islamic coalition, there will be a lot more suicide bombing, there and here.