POETIC LICENCE: Iraq belongs on the back burner, says Warren Christopher
A story in the latest issue of Time magazine quotes a senior Bush administration aide as saying that Vice-President Dick Cheney “likes being the right-wing nut.” The magazine says that when Cheney’s aide Mary Matalin told her boss recently that the press was writing stories about his being a “hard-liner,” Cheney replied, “I am a hard-liner”
As the Bush administration continues to gird for war against Iraq in its best full-speed-ahead-and-damn-the-consequences manner (it dispatched another 25,000 troops to the Gulf last week), some prominent sane voices in America including former Vice-President Al Gore have been counselling restraint. The latest to do so is former Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
In an article published in the New York Times on December 31, Christopher said: “North Korea’s startling revival of its nuclear programme, coupled with the unrelenting threat of international terrorism, presents compelling reasons for President Bush to step back from his fixation on attacking Iraq and to reassess his administration’s priorities.”
A story in the latest issue of Time magazine quotes a senior Bush administration aide as saying that Vice-President Dick Cheney “likes being the right-wing nut.” The magazine says that when Cheney’s aide Mary Matalin told her boss recently that the press was writing stories about his being a “hard-liner,” Cheney replied, “I am a hard-liner.”
With “right-wing nuts” and “hard-liners” like Cheney, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz in the administration’s ranks, it comes as no surprise that the rhetoric on Iraq coming out of Washington these days sounds more and more war-like.
Rumsfeld recently claimed that the US military could fight two wars at the same time. Addressing this question in his New York Times article, Christopher said: “My experience tells me that we cannot mount a war against Iraq and still maintain the necessary policy focus on North Korea and international terrorism. Anyone who has worked at the highest levels of our government knows how difficult it is to engage the attention of the White House on anything other than the issue of the day. For example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a major crisis by any standard — now seems to be handled largely by an assistant secretary of state. Likewise, Afghanistan, which is at risk again of becoming a haven for terrorists, seems to be getting less attention than it deserves.”
In foreign affairs, “Washington is chronically unable to deal with more than one crisis at a time,” said Christopher. “As deputy secretary of state in the Carter administration, I helped to negotiate the release of 52 American’s held hostage in the United States Embassy in Iran. I recall how this relatively confined crisis submerged all other issues for 14 months, including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Similarly, in the early years of the Clinton administration (in which Christopher served as secretary of state), our concentration on Bosnia and Haiti may have drawn our attention away from the killings in Rwanda.”
According to Christopher, “A United States-led attack on Iraq will overshadow all other foreign-policy issues for at least a year. In the early months, the news media can be expected to offer wall-to-wall combat stories, covered with characteristic one-dimensional intensity. Even if the optimistic predictions of quick victory prove to be accurate, we would then find ourselves absorbed with the occupation of Iraq and efforts to impose democracy on the fractious elements of that country.”
Christopher said: “North Korea’s reopening of its plutonium reprocessing plant at Yongbyon puts it within six months of being able to produce sufficient weapons-grade material to generate several nuclear bombs. Contrast this with Iraq. Not only is North Korea much further along than Iraq in building nuclear weapons but, by virtue of its longer-range missiles, it has greater delivery capability.”
According to Christopher, “Every option for dealing with this situation — including the administration’s ‘structured containment’ — is fraught with danger and potentially disastrous consequences. Having participated in the discussions leading up to the now-violated 1994 agreed framework with North Korea, I am convinced that this crisis requires sustained attention from top government officials, including the president. It is important to remember that devising a solution for the North Korean crisis will require sustained diplomatic efforts with China, South Korea and other countries of the region. All this will take time, energy and attention.”
And then there is the “war on terrorism,” which some commentators have called a war on an abstract noun. “Deadly terrorist attacks continue around the globe, wreaking havoc in far-flung places such as Indonesia, Kenya, Jordan and Yemen, where three American doctors were killed by a gunman yesterday (December 30),” said Christopher. “Here at home,” he said, “we remain highly vulnerable to terrorist attacks and woefully unprepared to cope with the consequences. We cannot put this issue on the back burner.”
Citing the fact that there is now in place in Iraq a much stronger inspection regime than there was only a few months ago, Christopher said: “It would be both consistent with our obligations to the United Nations and conducive to sound relations with our allies to let that effort run its natural course. The present murky picture of Iraq’s capacities and intentions may become much clearer after a sustained period of regular and surprise inspections and interrogations of Iraqi scientists in noncoercive circumstances.”
As Christopher observed, the decision to start a war, especially a preemptive war, requires a vision wider than the sole question of whether a favourable outcome is possible or likely. “Before President Bush gives the signal to attack Iraq, he should take a new, broad look at the question of whether such a war, at this moment, is the right priority for America.”
The problem is that expecting George W Bush to have a “wider vision” on the Iraq issue runs up against an attitude typified by what Bush Senior once famously said when he was president: “Oh yes, the vision thing.” For Bush Junior, “Saddam is the guy that tried to kill my dad.”
Forward air bases, army infantry units, a hospital ship and docile yet combat-trained American reporters are all being readied by the Bush administration for a “regime change” war against Iraq being promoted as a way to rid the world of “weapons of mass destruction” that Saddam Hussein doesn’t seem to have.