Short of finding a smoking gun, Blix's report couldn't have been better for U.S. efforts to win international consent for military action against Iraq. France, Germany, Russia and China remain unconvinced by U.S. allegations that Iraq represents an imminent danger, and oppose military action right now, insisting instead that the inspection process be given more time. Britain backs the U.S. position but the skepticism of the British electorate requires that Washington seek UN authorization for an attack. Iraq's Arab and Turkish neighbors oppose a war, but have resigned themselves to its inevitability and have put the onus on Baghdad to do what is necessary to avoid one. Allies have sought to restrain Washington by insisting that the inspection process be allowed to take its course. But Blix may have reinforced the Anglo-American position by emphasizing the issue of Iraqi cooperation over the issue of evidence, issuing a set of specific challenges that substantially raise the bar for Iraq to bring itself into compliance with Resolution 1441.
The fact that the U.S. and Britain have begun assembling a massive invasion armada capable of delivering the knockout blow to Saddam Hussein's regime has, of course, raised pressure on Washington to bring the inspection process to a speedy conclusion and move quickly to war.
Factors promoting a quick decision to invade include:
Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, long the standard-bearer of exhaustive diplomacy on Iraq, appeared late last week to have fallen in step with the hawks' timeline, despite having argued only two weeks ago that the inspectors needed a lot more time. Still, the U.S. looks unlikely to call a halt to inspections and move to military action in the wake of Blix's report. President Bush will likely use his State of the Union address Tuesday to amplify his argument that Saddam has failed to disarm and therefore made military action all but inevitable, but he is unlikely to use the speech as a platform for declaring war.
Reasons for holding off, at least for a few more weeks, include:
The Council convened following Blix's report for private consultations, and they are scheduled to meet again on Wednesday. President Bush meets with Britain's Tony Blair on Friday, where he'll reiterate his belief that Britain and the U.S. should allow a few more weeks of inspections, and then seek a Security Council resolution authorizing military action.
Britain has, over the past two weeks, been urging the Bush administration to allow the inspection process to continue for a few more weeks, confident that ramping up the inspectors' activities will turn up significant evidence of prohibited programs. But even if it doesn't, the inspection report tees up the U.S. and Britain to issue an ultimatum: Blix's "can do better" can be relatively smoothly parlayed by Washington into "must do better within a month, or else." And unless Saddam complies, the Security Council may well be cajoled, however reluctantly, into passing a war resolution.