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Start praying for Iraqi people
by HAROON SIDDIQUI
11:41am Fri Feb 7 '03
George W. Bush has conferred an aura of inevitability to a war on Iraq. An American president does not tell his 150,000 troops waiting in the desert that "crucial hours lie ahead" and not give them something to do -soon. He does not have his secretary of state declare that "multilateralism cannot become an excuse for inaction" and not order action. The only questions are how and when and at what price for whom.
The powerful always have their way. That's not new. The scandal here is that there is no longer even the pretence of a nod to the rule of international law. If the United Nations won't legitimize the war, the U.N. may be dispensed with. That's what the president said Tuesday. That's about what Colin Powell will say Wednesday when he gives the Security Council additional "evidence" against Iraq.
Lost in the stampede for war is its Orwellian rationale.
"Iraq is defying the will of the United Nations," says Powell, so there must be war - in defiance of the majority wishes of the United Nations.
There must be war to bring democracy to Iraq - defying the democratic and popular will of the peoples and governments of Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Far East.
There must be war so Saddam Hussein and his murderous coterie can be charged with crimes against humanity, even if the U.S. does not recognize the International Criminal Court.
There must be war because Saddam Hussein cannot be trusted, even if Bush loses his own credibility in the process.
It didn't have to be this way.
Just four months ago, Bush had brilliantly forced the world to face up to Saddam's evasions. But the president has since managed to make himself the issue and let the Iraqi dictator's crimes recede from world consciousness.
It is important to the free world that its leader be respected. But Bush has widely been seen as undermining U.N. inspectors, moving the goal posts on rules of engagement and constantly shifting his case against Iraq.
If inspectors can't find weapons of mass destruction, they are told they don't have to find any; they shouldn't even try because the burden of proof rests with Iraq. If they say they should continue their mission, they are told they have only weeks to wind down.
Had Bush maintained a dignified silence, he could have made better use of last Monday's report by Hans Blix, chief U.N. inspector, accusing Iraq of not showing "genuine acceptance of the disarmament demanded of it."
Bush's chief argument, that "evil" Saddam needs to be toppled and Iraqis liberated, while wholly valid, falls outside the framework of Resolution 1441. That case needed to be made along the lines of the Kosovo mission, with NATO approval but not the U.N.'s.
Perhaps it wasn't because the world would not have gone along with that, either, given what the Americans have wrought on Iraqi civilians under decade-long economic sanctions.
The Iraq file has been contaminated by a series of blunders dating back more than a decade. On Nov. 8, it seemed salvageable. But it has since been corrupted further.
What lies ahead?
Expect a broadening of the presidential tactics evident in the state of the union address, of buying goodwill at home ($670 billion in tax cuts) and abroad (a $10 billion AIDS package for Africa).
Turkey, for example, is being dangled $14 billion (all figures U.S.) in benefits. Others may be bullied into backing, or abstaining from, a Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force. If France and Germany dig in their heels, the need for such a mandate will be vitiated with a propaganda blitz about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Powell will begin the spin this week, reportedly with spy satellite pictures of "caravans of mobile labs," telephone intercepts and secret testimony extracted from detainees at Guantanamo Bay, linking Saddam to the Al Qaeda network.
All of it may be true or none of it. It may not matter. It is designed to sway - or at least give an excuse to - the doubters, including Canada, who feel they cannot risk the wrath of America by sticking to their principles. Foreign Minister Bill Graham has grasped the chance, saying that a second resolution may not be needed after all.
Meanwhile, inspectors can continue their work until their next report, due Feb. 14 - three days after the annual Muslim pilgrimage of Haj in Saudi Arabia. Any time after that, until mid-March, expect the cruise missiles to start flying.
The only conceivable way out may be an exile for Saddam, in any Arab country or in Russia. Such arranged exits have a long history: Afghan dictator Babrak Karmal in the former Soviet Union, Haitian "Baby Doc" Duvalier in France and Uganda's Idi Amin and Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif in Saudi Arabia, to cite some.
What is inconceivable is Saddam trading his absolute power for a life of obscurity under somebody else's domain. This is, after all, the man who refused the American offer of avoiding the 1991 Gulf War by simply withdrawing from invaded Kuwait.
So, start praying for the poor Iraqis, for whom Bush has just thoughtfully set aside the princely sum of $15 million "for any humanitarian emergency."
Haroon Siddiqui is the Star's editorial page editor emeritus. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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