If Wall Street believed there was a high probability – say 75% – that President Bush will pull the trigger on Iraq next week soon after his State of the Union Message, I believe the Dow Jones Industrial Average would now would be a few thousand points lower. It hit bottom October 9 at 7200 when the President worked out an agreement with the Senate Democrats on a resolution backing him on the use of force in Iraq. The four-point agreement included the President’s agreement to go through UN and, according to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, “before the President can use force in Iraq, he must certify to the Congress that diplomacy has failed.” The weakness in the market we saw yesterday may continue into next week if the President continues to beat the war drums and the Pentagon continues to ship troops by the tens of thousands to the Gulf.
Given the fact there is still no evidence Iraq is in “material breach” of UNSC 1441, the best explanation I can give of what is going on is the hope among the warhawks that they can force something to happen in Baghdad that will produce “regime change.” When the administration last week put out a list of Iraqi officials it thinks should be charged with war crimes, it was curious that Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz was not on the list. As if to say, “Hey Tariq, talk your boss into spending his retirement years in Mauritania, and you will not be hauled off to the Hague.” For that to have any chance of happening, though, Saddam Hussein would have to believe President Bush will pull the trigger and start bombing within days of a decision to go it alone – with no smoking gun, no UN and no Senate Democrats except Joe Lieberman on his side. That kind of action really is inconceivable to me, as most Senate Republicans would also be in rebellion. This leaves us with the Pentagon’s insistence that at the last possible minute, it will reveal some astounding piece of intelligence that will kick off the war. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been promising his Labor Cabinet a last minute smoking gun, as they have been in open revolt about shooting up Iraq without any other reason than that U.S. President is obsessed with getting rid of Saddam. Blair will meet with the President on January 30 to discuss the situation, but it is at least reported today that Blair believes there “should be”a new UN resolution authorizing force.
The chances of the Pentagon having knowledge of a cache of weapons of mass destruction, or a concealed program to develop WMD, are really non-existent. Very few people seem to be aware that since the United Nations inspections began in 1991, the inspectors have never, ever discovered a single weapon or an ongoing program to develop WMD. President Bush probably does not know this, as he continually cites the 14 UN Resolutions Baghdad has violated in the weapons search. These were like 14 parking tickets, as the inspectors had to show something for all the years they spent looking for WMD. What they did discover, from time to time, were documents in official files indicating Iraq had a chem/bio program back in the 1980's – when they were at war with Iran – which they had not previously revealed. The Iraq answer was typically, “When we found out it was too hard to do, we dropped it, and did not think it was relevant.” After the 14 “parking tickets” were cleaned up in this discovery process, there really has been nothing left to find, which is why Scott Ritter, the chief inspector from 1991-98, has been arguing for the last year that Iraq is qualitatively disarmed and is no threat to anyone.
The alternative of US military action without UN backing would be far more costly than the current projection of $60 billion and relatively few casualties. The notion that it would be a replay of the Gulf War, a “cakewalk,” misses the point that the Iraqi army would almost certainly stand and fight, and fight the U.S. ground troops that are gathering in the Gulf and would have to be sent in, no matter how hard the bombing campaign that would open up the war. In 1991, Saddam had ordered evacuation of Kuwait two days before Desert Storm began. In his memoirs, the elder President Bush noted he could have called off Desert Storm when he got word from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that Baghdad had agreed to all conditions, but that he believed it was too late for surrender and the Iraqi army had to be driven out. This is why there were so few allied casualties in the Gulf War, as our troops were firing on an army in retreat. The elite Republican Guard were practically out of Kuwait even before the first allied troops entered. In defense of their homeland, against a foe they blame for their miseries over the last dozen years, the Iraqis might well choose to fight hand-to-hand in urban combat. Americans killed in action could easily number in the thousands. Then there are the incalculable consequences of international political terrorism, energized and feeding off the reports of US bombers hitting Iraqi cities.
I’ve never believed President Bush is motivated in the slightest by grabbing Iraqi oil or by the geopolitical dreams of the Pentagon intellectuals in establishing an American Empire with a puppet regime in Iraq to oversee the region as well as the security of Israel. What gets him going is the belief that Saddam really is evil, so evil that he would kill his own people with poison gas, a la Hitler. So evil that he would put out a contract on the President’s father, after he left the White House in 1993 and visited Kuwait a few months later. Of the 535 members of Congress who had been asked to use force to change the Baghdad regime, all but two or three really believe the genocide and assassination stories. I have concluded long ago they were hoaxes, the result of disinformation campaigns by the American Empire crowd, chiefly the neo-cons Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Bill Kristol. In order to plant the flag in Baghdad, they have had to make the case that it is an evil regime that must be torn out by the roots. Perle, by the way, has been giving interviews in Europe in the last several days saying it does not matter if the inspectors find anything or not, the President is going to do Iraq. I do not know if Perle really believes this, as he is a master of disinformation, who helped win the Cold War with his little tricks.
Once we see what UNMOVIC’s Hans Blix report to the UN Security Council next week, it should be clear that President Bush can use his State of the Union Speech to take credit for Baghdad opening up as it has, once it was given one last chance! There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as all is well that ends well. What the President will have shown for his toughness is not only the renewed importance of the UN in debating these family matters, but also the importance of the international inspection regimes. Most important of all is that he will have re-established the moral foundations of the United States among those billions on the planet who have been losing confidence in America’s ability to manage the world.
When all is said and done, the fracas in Pyongyang will have a similar result. President Bush does not have to spill a lot of blood in order to go down in history as a great President. Concerns that he spent a lot of political capital in his focus on Saddam and a great deal of money in shipping troops abroad to back up his word would rapidly fade away in the euphoria of a peaceful resolution. As for Iraq posing a future threat to the region, even Baghdad does not expect a lifting of the 12-year-old sanctions would permit them to import any of the materials needed to produce nuclear weapons.