TCS Daily

The Warrior Diplomat

By Uriah Kriegel - September 23, 2002 12:00 AM

What are we to make of Saddam's sudden offer to allow unconditional inspections of his weapons program? There are two points we should note, one practical and the other more theoretical.

The practical point is that the West's reception of Saddam's offer should not lose sight of the main end we are seeking to secure. The political left in the West is pushing for avoiding war and installing an inspection regime instead. Much of the political right wants a war to remove the Saddam threat once and for all. But this is neither about inspections nor about war - it's about disarmament.

Saddam must have no serious weapons at his disposal. He can keep guns, machineguns, grenades, and perhaps a minimal number of conventional warheads, but nothing more. If this can be achieved peacefully, through an inspections regime, so be it. If not, this nation is ready to go to war. But whether he gets disarmed through inspections or through war is immaterial; what matters is that he gets disarmed.

Saddam's inspections offer should not be dismissed offhand. Obviously, the offer has not come because Saddam has now refined his moral sensibilities and realized that his past actions have wrongly inflicted harm on innocent people. Rather, after the president's speech at the UN on Sept. 12, he understood that he's out of chances.

America will not back down from its plan to neutralize Saddam. And when the war on his regime starts, only two outcomes are conceivable. Either he will die or, like bin Laden, he will spend the rest of his life one weekend in one cave and the next in another. But while bin Laden doesn't mind living in caves, Saddam only enjoys having power and wielding it in the presence of witnesses. Life in the cave is not his gig. So, having realized that he's about to be forced to choose between the cave and the grave, Saddam offered unconditional inspections.

Now, if it is possible to secure a truly rigorous inspections regime, backed by permanent military presence, then there is no reason to turn the offer down. The ostensible purpose is to ensure that the inspectors can perform their job in absolute freedom. But such an inspection regime must also amount to mini-occupation, effectively keeping Saddam in check. War on Iraq is not an end in itself - disarmament is.

Of course, it may very well be that Saddam's offer is just a tactical move designed to turn the UN Security Council members against one another and buy him some time. But maybe not. It is quite possible that after Bush's UN speech he may really have reached the point where he understands that it's either disarmament or the cave-or-grave deal. If so, his disarmament just might go through peacefully. If not, it won't take a long time to find out. The first instance by Saddam of reverting to the old pattern of playing games is the first shot of the war.

Such a position - not dogmatically insisting on going to war, but at the same time relentlessly driving to genuine disarmament - will gain the U.S. some points at the Security Council. While not an end in itself, sooner or later this will come in handy, especially as the U.S. needs cooperation and vital information sharing. It helps in the more political context of maintaining an appearance of multilateralism.

But the most important point to note about Saddam's offer is the way in which readiness to go to war may be the surest path to peace. Left-wing critics of the Bush Administration pressed us to "give diplomacy a chance." But what is diplomacy? If Iraq's disarmament does end up unfolding peacefully, Bush's war rhetoric will have (perhaps unwittingly) turned out to be brilliant diplomacy. Saddam didn't make his offer in gratitude for the width of Gerhard Schröder's smile, but in response to the intensity of Bush's threat. You don't get Saddam to change his ways by sitting around over a cup of tea and trying to convince him that it's not nice to use chemical weapons against people. To get him to do the right thing, you need some leverage. And this leverage you get not from Foggy Bottom but from the Pentagon.

The left's preference for toning down the war rhetoric can give the impression of being peace-conducive but then end up a decade later with Saddam nuking Jerusalem or Tehran or, more probably, both. Such blind pacifism, locking itself in a reality-protected bubble of good intentions, may easily lead where good intentions so often do. By contrast, sincere commitment to war may decrease the overall violence the world must witness.

These are not deep insights but elementary facts worth repeating - if only to make sure that the we don't lose our focus.



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