TCS Daily


Jawing at a Stonewall

By Duane D. Freese - January 24, 2003 12:00 AM

When critics of the Bush administration accuse it of rushing to war and not giving inspections time to work in Iraq, all because of "oil interests," they demonstrate their ignorance of history and economics.

President Bush had it right this week, when he said that the Iraqi tactics of cheat and retreat, demonstrated again by the "discovery" last week of warheads for carrying chemical weapons, "appears to be a rerun of a bad movie." Saddam Hussein, he said, "is delaying. He is deceiving. He is asking for time. He is playing hide and seek with inspectors. One thing for sure is, he is not disarming."

Unfortunately, it appears that the president was wrong in saying of other members of the United Nations: "Surely our friends have learned lessons from the past."

A day later, French President Jacque Chirac, who ought to know better, argued, "War always signifies failure. Everything must be done to avoid war."

France did "everything" to avoid war with Germany in 1936, 1937 and 1938, and ended up being invaded and overwhelmed. The cost of it and the rest of the world doing "everything" a nightmare in which tens of millions died.

France learned that lesson enough to seek to thwart, by acts of war dependent on U.S. military muscle, the aggressive actions of Slobodan Milosevic, who had no designs on weapons of mass destruction and no "extraterritorial demands" beyond historic Serbia. But now France lacks the courage and the wisdom to enforce the very resolutions it agreed to regarding Iraq.

In 10 weeks, on April 3, the United Nations will celebrate the 12th Anniversary of United Nations resolution 687. In that resolution, the Security Council directed Iraq to provide a list of all weapons of mass destruction, their components and parts in 15 days. Iraq was directed to comply unconditionally. It had agreed to such compliance when it agreed to a ceasefire that ended military action.

Four years, four months and a fortnight ago on Sept. 10, 1998, Iraq delivered a deficient 800-page report detailing its biological and chemical weapons, before kicking U.N. inspectors out.

President Bush's threat of military action forced Saddam Hussein to capitulate and let those inspectors back in.

In a letter handed over to the United Nations on Sept. 16, Iraq said it would allow the return of U.N. weapons inspectors "without conditions" to "remove any doubts Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction."

After the U.N. authored a declaration reiterating its conditions and concerns in November, Iraq finally yielded and delivered up an 1,100 page declaration which was to answer every question, but which U.N. inspectors and everyone else knows was deficient, not even outlining what happened to the material exposed in the 1998 declaration.

Still, on Jan. 13, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri insisted, "The declaration answers everything."

Only after the discovery of the illicit warheads last week, and further discoveries in scientists' homes of 3,000 pages of documents dealing with the building of nuclear weapons, did Iraq say, 'Oops!' It then immediately promised to "scour the countryside" to find more weapons.

But over the weekend and this week, preceding his Jan. 27 report to the Security Council on compliance, U.N. weapons inspection chief Hans Blix was still negotiating the terms of that compliance. He was still seeking to gain Iraqi consent to talk with scientists without mentors from the Iraqi regime present. He was trying to gain consent for overflights of U-2 spy planes under U.N. auspices to watch Iraqi activities.

"To jaw-jaw," as Winston Churchill said, "is better than war-war." But not when you are only talking to yourself and your enemy continues to try to get away with murder.

How long will America have to stand guard at the gates of Iraq with a sufficient force to threaten assault to ensure such continued "progress"? Another 12 years?

The idea that the Bush administration is "rushing" to war, as critics claim, is bogus. It is more than a decade past the time when Hussein's regime was to come clean. And the regime is still not being "proactive," as Blix says, in cooperating with inspectors. It has not yet unconditionally accepted its obligation to expose and then dispose of its weapons of mass destruction as promised under the ceasefire.

Equally bogus are the placards waved at anti-war rallies here in the United States, demanding "no blood for oil." That simplistic canard, raised because Iraq has the second largest known oil reserves, ignores the realities of the world oil market.

David Frum, an American Enterprise Institute visiting scholar, explodes the absurdity of the argument. What is meant by "fight for oil?" Frum asks.

Is it access to oil? The United States doesn't lack access to oil. It has plenty of access, including right next door in Mexico and Canada. Iraq has only 3 percent of world production and likely could increase that to only about 4 percent.

So, is it cheap oil? Well, that contradicts anti-war activists' arguments that the war is on behalf of big American oil companies. Cheap oil makes investments in oil drilled in deep water or other expensive ways less economical. To make those investments pay off takes prices about $20 a barrel, so the Bush administration going to war against Iraq to create $12 to $15 a barrel oil makes little sense.

Is it to shift oil contracts, such as the $40 billion in oil contracts signed by Iraq with Russia? Well, why would the administration risk spending $60 billion to as much as $200 billion to battle Iraq if it will only get back $40 billion? As Frum says, no president would do that.

Applying the logic of anti-Bush protestors to the world market, one could come to conclusions that France and Russia and other European nations would oppose military action to protect their own oil and economic interests at the expense of the United States.

The World Socialist Web Site notes the extensive trade links with Iraq. "Currently, France is Iraq's biggest trading partner within the EU (European Union), with a total trade balance of $1.5 billion. Following France is Italy, with total trade worth $1 billion. Europe accounts for the bulk of investment in the Iraqi oil industry as well, including the French concern TotalFinaElf, the Italian (ENI) and Russia's (LukOil). With a total trade balance of $4 billion, Russia is Iraq's biggest trading partner worldwide."

Indeed, the oil and economic arguments can be cut in all directions by left or right wing conspiracy theorists and activists.

The oil logic that makes real sense is that Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, must be perpetually deprived of oil revenue that might be diverted to the production of weapons of mass destruction. In light of Hussein's history to buy, to build and to amass such weapons, how can the world afford to provide him the resources to develop them and put them in place?

The anti-war argument impels the perpetual impoverishment of the Iraqi people until such time as Saddam Hussein dies and it can be assured the subsequent rulers have given up his dreams.

The alternative is to risk his provisioning terrorists with the means to murder hundreds of thousands of people, while he himself threatens his neighbors until a larger, wider war occurs.

This is especially so if those engines of peace, which the United Nations pretends to be, fail to ever enforce their dictums to achieve it. Twelve years is a long time to have a dictator offer obscene gestures to the United Nations. It will only encourage similar activities by other belligerent despots in the future unless an example is made of Saddam.

President Bush is displaying a keener appreciation of history than his critics. France, Europe and the anti-war marchers need to open their eyes. The rush to anti-war rhetoric and old scapegoats clouds their vision. Jaw-jaw, yes, but not when you are talking to a stonewall. It takes some force to bring such walls of deceit down and uncover weapons of mass destruction.
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