Without doubt, what happened Saturday when several million people around the world took the trouble to protest a U.S. war in Iraq was unique in world history. There have in the past been demonstrations planned for several cities to protest the Vietnam war, but those were part of the Cold War exercises and were clearly ideological and leftist. Here, though, we have the very first global conversation, with practically everyone in the world who has access to a radio or television set trying to tell the United States that it has to take into account the opinions of the rest of the global family. The demonstrators were not supporting Saddam Hussein or the Baghdad government or even peace rather than war. They came out by the millions to tell President Bush that he should resist the impulse to do as he pleases because he is the boss of the world. Patrick Tyler of the New York Times had it just about right Monday in his front-page news analysis, “A New Power in the Streets”: The fracturing of the Western alliance over Iraq and the huge antiwar demonstrations around the world this weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.”
The hawks in the news media have been insisting President Bush will ignore these “mobs,” but the President must deal with heads of state around the world, and there is now no head of state in the world whose constituents favor military action against Baghdad without a United Nations resolution endorsing such action. The biggest crowds in Europe, in fact, came in those countries where there is support for war by the head of state – in Britain, Italy and Spain. There are several Eastern European countries where the heads of state have tentatively signed on to the “coalition of the willing,” if Mr. Bush were to pull the trigger without the UN and NATO aboard. But public opinion polls in those countries also indicate popular opposition by ratios of 5-to-1 and 6-to-1. The Pentagon would desperately need Turkey to permit ground troops for an invasion from the north of Iraq, but polls indicate 96% of the people of Turkey are opposed. The administration is offering a $26 billion aid package to Turkey if its politicians ignore their people, but Turkey says it wants twice that amount and it begins to look as if there will be no deal.
When I saw the reaction at the UN Security Council on Friday morning and reported that it now seemed impossible there would be a war, I had not anticipated the global demonstrations that followed on Saturday, which makes it all the more improbable for President Bush to proceed with war. Indeed, I suspect he had already made the private decision to stop short of the brink, but keep the pressure on until he got Saddam Hussein disarmed to his skivvies. Wall Street’s 158-point splurge Wednesday afternoon with a continuing decline in the dollar/gold price was ample evidence that the tide had definitely shifted to a diplomatic solution.
The hawks insist that Mr. Bush will look like a wimp if he backs away at the last minute and orders the troops to stand down. Pat Buchanan theoretically opposes war, but he says the same, that Mr. Bush could not be re-elected having staked so much on war. I had to congratulate John McLaughlin for the segment he had Sunday on NBC’s "McLaughlin Group," showing President Eisenhower in 1955 suddenly backing away from threats to nuke Red China in the dispute that arose over Quemoy and Matsu. It was a reminder that the American people will back the President if he chooses war, but will love him all the more if he finds a way to get what he wants through diplomacy. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had disagreed with Ike backing away, but as soon as Ike did so, there were conciliatory statements coming out of Beijing. And Eisenhower’s popularity climbed. So will President Bush’s, I think, as people around the world will be thanking God (or Allah) that he turned out to be a wise man after all. He will only be faulted for accepting a diplomatic solution by the craziest of the hawks at Dow Jones & Co. and Rupert Murdoch’s media network – which is making money faster than the competition with the drumbeat of war. Real men watch FoxNews and read the New York Post and The Weekly Standard.
Condaleeza Rice, the National Security Advisor, still holds out the hope that in the next few weeks Saddam will defy the UN weapons inspectors in some way, and the Security Council will have no choice but to give President Bush a resolution authorizing force. With Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz saying his prayers with the Pope and walking the walk of St. Frances of Assisi, the only hope left for the hawks is if the “benchmarks” they are drawing up for Hans Blix are so onerous to Iraq that Saddam will balk. The Pentagon seems to be counting on the demand that Iraq destroy all the short-range missiles he has in his arsenal that are allowed by the 1991 disarmament resolutions, now that it has been shown that they can be propelled a few kilometers further than the permitted 150. The Iraqi military would no doubt be horrified if this were agreed to, because these conventional weapons are designed to defend against just the kind of attack the Pentagon is planning from Kuwait and Turkey. Even here, I’d expect some sort of diplomatic solution to be found, as Baghdad is now so close to averting war and “regime change” that it would not permit such a “benchmark” to spoil its peace offensive.
The most telling interview on the Sunday talk shows, I thought, was Tim Russert’s on NBC’s "Meet the Press" of Wesley Clark. The commanding general in the Balkan operations, Clark is now retired and thinking of running for President in 2004. He was emphatic in citing the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein over the long run, but even more emphatic in citing the dangers of going against Iraq without the support of the international community. When Russert asked him point blank if he thought a war on Iraq “a necessary war,” Clark paused a moment and said, “It is an elective war.” In other words, at the moment Saddam is not a cancer, but a cosmetic problem. He also thought it no big deal that the Commander-in-Chief might have to bring the troops home without a fight.
As the tide will continue running toward diplomacy over war, with surprises to the contrary scarcely possible now, there should be a steady recovery of the DJIA toward 9000 by the end of March. It would then seem completely impossible for a military campaign to be mounted. And it is in April that the White House hopes to get its economic program passed in the Senate. The President should then be so popular for a bloodless victory in disarming Saddam that he should have no trouble getting the votes he needs for his supply-side tax cuts.