Thursday, February 06, 2003

A sobering and depressing moment of truth. Cheer up. At least now there will be new material for Get Your War On.

It wasn't a surprise that Secretary of State Colin Powell showed the UN devastating evidence that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons, and is working on getting nukes as well. Nor was it a surprise that he showed the Iraqis are not cooperating with UN weapons inspections. So what was the surprise? This: that even in the midst of inspections, Saddam Hussein is moving his weapons around, and continues to enhance his capability to build and possibly use them.

Count me among those who had believed the inspections themselves -- combined with the two no-fly zones and continued or even tougher sanctions -- could keep Saddam contained, an option that is far preferable than war. But after yesterday, how can anyone reasonably hold to that position? Especially when the evidence is coming from Powell, the most respected of President Bush's foreign-policy team, a sophisticated internationalist who has done much to keep the White House hotheads from going to war.

Let's be grown-up about this, shall we? Powell isn't lying. If he wanted to, he could resign on principle right now and either lead a comfortable retirement -- or win the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination by acclamation. The audiotape wasn't doctored, the photos weren't "cartoons," as one of Saddam's thugs charged yesterday. This is real, and Powell obviously believes the time has come to do something about it.

The lead editorials in today's New York Times and Boston Globe -- two leading antiwar voices -- took me by surprise today, mainly because it was the Times that was flaccid and vague, and the Globe that articulated just the right tough-minded liberal response. While acknowledging the power of Powell's presentation, the Times argued, "President Bush should continue to let diplomacy work," and "Iraq still has a chance to change course." Its only nod to the possibility that military confrontation might be necessary was the last sentence: "Because the consequences of war are so terrible, and the cost of rebuilding Iraq so great, the United States cannot afford to confront Iraq without broad international support."

The Globe didn't so much take an opposite position from the Times as argue it in a sharper, more realistic context -- and note how much more effective Powell was than the White House's "fitful diplomacy, its arrogance, and its blunderbuss rhetoric." Although the Globe stressed that the administration still needs to use the remaining days and weeks to build as broad a coalition as it can, the editorial only sees three options for Iraq: a coup, exile for Saddam, or war.

Pardon the long excerpt, but here the Globe gets it exactly right:

So it can be stipulated that the Iraqi people, the region, and the world would be a better, safer, more humane place with Saddam disarmed or out of power. The question is how to effect such an outcome without unleashing the furies of troubles that could quickly follow military action.

Chief among these risks: an eruption of destabilizing violence in the rest of the Middle East; the recruitment of fresh terrorists enraged by what they may choose to see as a war on Islam; high military and civilian casualties among Iraqis and Americans and their allies; and a murky future for a post-Saddam Iraq involving indefinite occupation by the United States, a descent into tribal factionalism, or even anarchy.

Here is where President Bush still owes the American people a fuller, more credible presentation -- to prove to our allies and ourselves that these risks can be minimized to the point where they are lower than the risks of allowing Saddam Hussein to remain in power.

This is what I, as an American citizen, worry about the most. Who wouldn't want to see Saddam out of power, the Iraqi people liberated, and their country governed by a more democratic regime that respects human rights? Unfortunately, with reports that the Pentagon may open the war by flattening Bagdhad and killing everyone in it, my fear is that we'll be doing little more than causing intense human suffering and inspiring a new generation of terrorism. Tom Friedman's column in yesterday's Times is worth reading on the difference between quick victory, which is virtually assured, and long-term success, which is anything but.

I trust Colin Powell. I worry about the rest of the administration. Now we are reaching the point where ordinary citizens can do little more than cross their fingers and hope for the best.

No comments: