"As John McLaughlin and Eleanor Clift concurred on The McLaughlin Group this week, Colin Powell deserves the title ‘Person of the Year’ for having slowed the rush to war against Iraq. Clift pointed out that the President has gone with Powell, rather than the neocons, at every important turn in the road that may not lead to war after all. The War Party thought they had won the fight, and that they had a deal with the Bushies: but the UN inspections process, which could last out the new year, short-circuited the drive to war in the Middle East."
While it may be a bit early to claim that my prediction has come true, the evidence that the rush to war has slowed to a veritable crawl is rapidly proliferating to a state of near certainty. It looks like the Brits are "going wobbly," as Maggie Thatcher would no doubt put it, with Tony Blair’s Labor Party in a uproar over the prospect of war and Cabinet ministers at each other’s throats over the issue. The Telegraph reports:
"Britain is pressing for war against Iraq to be delayed for several months, possibly until the autumn, to give weapons inspectors more time to provide clear evidence of new violations by Saddam Hussein."
When Jack Straw, Britain’s foreign secretary, let the cat out of the bag by telling the BBC that the odds are running 60-40 against war, Geoff Hoon, their version of Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Perle combined, went ballistic, publicly rebuking Straw. Blair went nuclear, opining that Straw’s remarks were "extremely stupid," but the Telegraph notes that Blair’s support for the War Party is not quite so unconditional as previously supposed, citing a "senior Whitehall source" as saying:
"The Prime Minister has made it clear that, unless there is a smoking gun, the inspectors have to be given time to keep searching."
This is a standard considerably higher than that enunciated by Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, who avers that it is up to Iraq to prove it doesn’t have "weapons of mass destruction." As Blix stated in his prepared remarks to the UN:
"Iraq cannot just maintain that it must be deemed to be without proscribed items as long as there is no evidence to the contrary. If evidence is not presented … there is no way the inspectors can close the file by simply invoking a precept that Iraq cannot prove a negative."
Blix, however, doesn’t have any backbenchers to deal with: there is even talk that a few junior ministers would resign if Bush’s poodle followed his master into the Iraqi morass without a UN mandate and a "smoking gun" that could be waved at home front opponents of the war. The UN inspectors have so far visited 300 Iraqi sites, including 47 facilities that have not been inspected before, so far without uncovering even a trace of the alleged hidden arsenal. Unless something major is discovered in the eighteen or so days left before Blix is scheduled to come back to the UN, an Anglo-American assault on Iraq will have to be postponed perhaps indefinitely.
On the international front, at least, the War Party seems to be unraveling, and it isn’t just the Brits. The Turks, too, are getting cold feet, demanding as the price of their cooperation more "aid" and publicly wavering over the prospect of letting American ground troops on their soil. Reeling from an economic crisis, and with a new Islamic party at the helm, Turkey is essential to the US military strategy of a short and decisive strike, but Turkish public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed: eighty-eight percent say no to war. The Turkish government has delayed the decision until January 27, when Blix and his team are expected to deliver a more comprehensive report to the UN Security Council. At which time another looming crisis may enter the Council’s purview almost simultaneously .
Back in October, I wrote that "we may have been saved from the prospect of war in the Middle East only to be faced with an even greater crisis on the other side of the Asian landmass," warning that North Korea was about to blow. Kim Jong Il "has pulled the rug out from under the War Party," I wrote, "even as the U.S. gets ready to move on Iraq." Noting that the President had recently received Ariel Sharon at the White House and promised that the Israelis would get two weeks notice before we attack Iraq, I predicted that Sharon would have a long wait: "If I were Sharon, I wouldn’t hold my breath."
Hey, come to think of it, the Israeli Prime Minister does look a little blue these days .
Once the Colin Powell faction won out and the U.S. went down the road of UN inspections, the rush to war in Iraq necessarily slowed to a near halt. The logic of this course required a long drawn-out process that could be interrupted, at any moment, by a fresh crisis on another front. The arrogance of the would-be U.S. "hegemon," whom some have deemed a "hyperpower," has been humbled, this week, as it will be in the weeks and months to come. Those who believed that the U.S. could do whatever it wanted, without regard for world opinion, or long-recognized moral and diplomatic precepts, have this eventful week been proved dead wrong.
Some in this administration may learn the lesson of these events, but the hard-liners in their ranks will surely not. They, for their part, will launch an attack on the President, and, as I wrote earlier this week, the neocons are already out for revenge. The scurrilous smear against the Bush family launched in the New York Sun by Stephen Schwartz which suggested that the Saudis had bribed both 41 and 43 by contributing to Phillips Academy, which both men attended has been followed by cries of "appeasement!" Michael Ledeen, writing in National Review Online, bemoans the existence of an "antiwar coalition" consisting of Brent Scowcroft and the Pentagon, as well as nameless "so-called friends and allies," who have so "boxed in" Bush and Blair that they cannot unleash the dogs of war. It’s all a conspiracy, you see, one furthered by the Saudis, who had the gall to propose the "Abdullah plan," calling attention to the Israeli boot on the Palestinians’ neck when we should have been going after Iran and preparing for war with Saddam. Going to the UN gave the game away:
"Once Saddam accepted this gambit, President Bush was trapped in a device of our own construction, designed by our own diplomats and their foreign friends. For the moment, at least, the antiwar crowd has the upper hand."
For once I agree with Ledeen. The War Party is in full retreat, and, as I predicted, they are plenty angry about it. "All dressed up and nowhere to go," I wrote, they will turn on the President as soon as they get over their disappointment. And that wasn’t long at all. Mark Steyn, writing in the [UK] Spectator, echoes Ledeen’s lament, detecting "interdepartmental coordination" among the various components of the axis of evil: the North Koreans, the Palestinians, and of course the Saudis in the person of the ubiquitous Prince Abdullah they’re all in on a Vast Conspiracy to deprive the neocons of their heart’s desire: the conquest and subjugation of much of the Middle East.
Steyn, one of the more hot-under-the-collar warmongers, has never been a proponent of the "rope a dope" theory, which posits that "the administration’s apparent lethargy this last year is all part of some cunning bluff." He’s been suspicious of the Bushies all along, wondering if their devotion to furthering Ariel Sharon’s agenda in the Middle East could be as servile as his own. "Even if it were true," he writes,
"A man like Kim Jong-Il reminds us of the perils of this approach: crazy as he is, it’s unlikely he’d be crying ‘Look at me! Over here, you moronic cowboy!’ if Bush had already killed Saddam and set in motion the remaking of the Middle East. The 13 months since the liberation of Afghanistan allowed Kim to figure that the US isn’t serious. When Saddam looks out the window and sees Hans Blix motoring around in his UN minibus, he concludes likewise."
"If Saddam’s still in power by May," Steyn warns, "the world’s in big trouble." The "linkage" suggested in Steyn’s essay is that Kim Jong Il will get together with Hezbollah, and even Al Qaeda, but this is just fanciful window dressing to disguise the real target of his wrath: George W. Bush. One has to wonder, is it the world, or just Bush, who will be in trouble?
The advantages to this administration postponing a war until the campaign season begins are too obvious to be gone into, but this schedule does not at all fit the requirements of the War Party, which has an agenda all its own. With Sharon losing his lead in the polls, dragged down by a burgeoning scandal and weariness with his implacable belligerence, what amounts to the American branch of Israel’s hard-line Likud Party is increasingly desperate. The war that was supposed to deliver them from their enemies, with the U.S. taking on not only Iraq but also sowing chaos throughout the region, toppling the regime in Riyadh and unseating the Jordanian king, may occur too late or not at all. Without that kind of cover, the Likud goal of eliminating Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Authority cannot be accomplished, and Labor may triumph after all.
This is one of the greatest dangers of empire: that the politics of our satraps and protectorates are inextricably entwined with our own. I started out this column by crowing about the accuracy of my own predictions, which is in somewhat dubious taste, so let me end it with an impressive demonstration of someone else’s prophetic powers. The conservative columnist Paul Craig Roberts, in his prognostications for the new year, put the following at the top of his list:
"In 2003 the story will be confirmed that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was a secret Israeli plan designed to involve the U.S. long-term in the Arab-Israeli conflict, cynically sold to the Bush White House by neoconservatives as a reelection strategy."
The only disagreement I have with Roberts is that there is nothing "secret" about the neocon strategy. The administration has always insisted that Iraq threatens its neighbors, but the nations of the Middle East are united in their opposition to war with the exception of Israel. The War Party has its sights set not only on Iraq, but also on Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as Syria. That Israel is the one and only possible beneficiary of this mad rush to war has been clear from the start.
War may have been postponed, but the prospect of it will loom large in the months to come. Now is the time for the worldwide antiwar movement to redouble its efforts, especially in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. The idea that war is "inevitable" is just a lot of war propaganda, and recent events have underscored an important point: the ruling elites will not go to war if the price is perceived as too high. We must make them pay the full costs, politically, if they dare to defy world opinion.
We, here at Antiwar.com, are doing our part to shape world opinion, but you, our readers, can do more, not only by contributing to our cause, but by actively participating in the movement to stop what the neocons optimistically refer to as World War IV.
The War Party is in retreat, and, as Jackie Gleason used to say, "How sweet it is!" But now is not the time to rest on our laurels. We are at a crossroads in the battle for peace, what could well be a turning point, and our strategy is clear: keep the pressure on!
I‘ve been doing a lot of interviews lately. One of the most interesting was with the conservative radio commentator Barry Farber, who was a lot of fun. I did it in November, and it’s available on the web, in an audio file format, so check it out here (you need Real Audio installed) if you want to see two right-wingers butt heads over the Iraq question.