UN to Bush: Non, Nyet — Or, at Least, Not Yet

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In the end it was France, rather than the U.S. that carried the day at the UN. After two days of debate in the Security Council, the Bush administration appears to have accepted that no authorization of force will be contained in a Security Council resolution on Iraqi disarmament at this stage. While there was widespread endorsement for insisting on verifiable Iraqi disarmament, there was almost no support in the Security Council for Washington's demand that a resolution setting terms for renewed inspections also authorize the use of force if Baghdad fails to comply. The UN consensus appears to be to test Baghdad's offer to comply with new inspections before authorizing force. And that means accepting the French proposal to delay any authorization of force to a second resolution, if the Security Council judges Saddam to be in breach of the new inspection terms. In its new compromise offer, the U.S. reportedly accepts the need to first send in the inspectors, and bring the issue back to the Security Council if they're blocked. France is studying the offer, and Russia has responded positively.

The proposal also reportedly withdraws contentious U.S. calls for armed detachments and officials from the U.S. and other permanent Security Council members to accompany inspectors. But Washington continues to demand the right of UN inspectors to question Iraqi scientists outside of the country. The new proposals are likely to achieve a consensus in the UN over how to approach disarming Iraq — but potentially at a cost of waiting months before any attack on Iraq might be authorized.

U.S. Fails to Persuade UN
(October 16, 5pm)

The UN Security Council opened its formal debate on Iraq Wednesday with no sign of agreement between its principal players over how to tackle Iraqi disarmament. France and Russia have bluntly demanded that the U.S. amend amend its proposed resolution to delete any suggestion of an automatic authorization of force should Saddam fail to comply with UN terms for weapons inspections. While the U.S. and Britain insist that stating the threat of imminent force is essential to pressure Saddam Hussein to comply with intrusive weapons inspections, most other members are reluctant to cede to President Bush the Council's prerogative to judge whether or not Baghdad is complying. France continues to demand a two-step process, in which a new resolution is adopted setting tough terms for arms inspections, but leaving the authorization of force to a second resolution if Saddam fails to comply. And French President Jacques Chirac has left no doubt that the deeper concern driving the debate is whether the UN goal is regime-change in Baghdad (favored by the U.S.), or simply disarmament (favored by most other Council members).

Nor is the U.S. and British challenge confined to convincing their fellow Security Council veto-wielders Russia, France and China. The Financial Times points out that the support of the ten elected members of the Security Council — Colombia, Ireland, Mauritius, Norway, Singapore, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Guinea, Mexico and Syria — is essential to achieve the nine-vote majority necessary to pass a resolution. Right now, most of those countries lean more to the Franco-Russian view than the U.S.-British approach.

Bush's Dilemma: No Laughing Matter

Now that Congress has handed him the car keys — in a congressional resolution he signed on Wednesday — President Bush is left to make the call himself on whether to go to war. By effectively recusing itself from the decision, Congress has left Bush to deal directly with the American people on a war whose support is by no means overwhelming. And that's far from easy, given the likelihood that unless Saddam does something remarkably stupid in the next few weeks — or the administration is sitting on some "gotcha" piece of intelligence that will be rolled out on the eve of giving the attack order — U.S. public support for the war is more likely to ebb than to grow the longer the delay. Indeed, even now there's a significant discrepancy in poll numbers supporting a war when the rider of substantial American casualties is added to the question. And analysts suggest that in the event of an invasion, the American public will have to be prepared for the possibility that even if things go well, U.S. casualties will indeed be substantial.

Interestingly enough, in skeptical Britain pollsters found that support for attacking Iraq climbed from 32 percent to 42 percent as a result of the Bali terrorist bombing despite the fact that claims of an Iraq-al Qaeda link have yet to gain traction on either side of the Atlantic. Indeed, many European commentators warned that the lesson of the Bali attacks was that al-Qaeda ought to remain the West's priority, but Secretary of State Colin Powell, backed by Tony Blair, insisted that it was necessary to confront both threats simultaneously.

Still, in gauging the public's readiness to go to war in Iraq, the White House may also want to pay attention to the extent to which the administration's talk of Iraqi threats is becoming a source of satire for wags ranging from Saturday Night Live to the editors of the fantasy supermarket tabloid Weekly World News whose current issue warns of Iraqi submarines in Lake Michigan. That's not the sort of humor that's going to get Americans in the mood for war.

As Tikrit Goes, So Goes Karbala?

And talking of humor, Saddam showed his on Tuesday by staging a referendum on his continued presidency, in which every one of the 11.5 million Iraqis eligible to vote had cast a ballot, and there was not a single nay among them. Reporting from Saddam's home town of Tikrit, the Financial Times notes that the locals have ambiguous feelings about their homeboy's success. The paper also cheekily points out that Saddam's farcical referendum actually has a precedent in an election staged in Iraq by the British in 1921, in which the only candidate, King Faisal, received 96 percent of the vote.

Mr. Sharon Goes to Washington

In order to win Arab support for his Iraq campaign, President Bush needs to keep the Israeli-Palestinian conflict out of the headlines. And that means he's likely to ask Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to show restraint in dealing with the Palestinians in the months ahead, as well as to refrain from entering the war with Iraq — even if provoked by an Iraqi missile attack — at least without first checking in with the White House. Both of those may be bitter pills for Sharon to follow, and the extent to which he toes the line may be determined in no small part by the vagaries of Israeli domestic politics — particularly his battle with Bibi Netanyahu for the Likud party nomination. But there's a third danger looming that may also require even more active mediation by the U.S. — the water dispute with Lebanon. Israel has warned that it may bomb a pumping station built by Lebanon on the Wazzani River, which feeds Israel's fresh water supply in the Sea of Galilee, if the Lebanese begin diverting water to nearby villages. But Hizbollah is itching for a fight, and has warned that it will respond within minutes to any Israeli strike by firing missiles into Israel. Israel has long warned Syria that it holds the regime in Damascus responsible for reining in Hezbollah, and that Syria will be the target of Israeli retaliation for any Hezbollah attack. And the last thing Washington needs is another Arab-Israeli war on the eve of its Iraq invasion.

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