The Iraq Post

As I wrote before, Unlearned Hand is collecting Bloggers’ opinions for a series called “Where Do We Go From Here?” Mr. Hand is looking for posts on “fleshed-out alternatives to war” and “what would you do in Bush’s place?”

Here’s the post I submitted, edited very slightly for style.

Ideally, Bush would find a way to simultaneously

  • Maintain containment in Iraq.
  • Restore strained relations with allies–France, Germany, Mexico.
  • Improve relations with the Muslim world.
  • Preserve the credibility of U.S. foreign policy in the process. This is more important than preserving Bush’s credibility.

Are there reasonable ways to achieve all of these objectives? Perhaps, though I doubt that this administration will pursue any of them. If Rove anticipates “World Makes U.S. Back Down” headlines around the globe, then backing-down is a non-starter for this administration. Imagine combining the state of the domestic economy with the Chinese/Spy Plane incident writ large, and even Dick Gephardt might beat Bush. So my focus is not particularly on what is right, but rather on strategies the administration could actually use to back down without making it seem like backing down.

On domestic policy, this administration has great success with the strategy of repeating a lie until it seems true to the general public. I doubt that would work in this instance, but it might be worth a try. The strategy in this case would be for the administration to repeat ad nauseum this story: “for twelve years and umpteen resolutions, Saddam has defied the U.N.; now the U.S. and President Bush are making him comply. The only way to prevent a war was through this administration’s credible threat of war.” To feed the outraged right, augment all statements with lines about how ineffective Clinton was in enforcing Iraqi compliance to U.N. resolutions. The story would be the “only George W. Bush could prevent war” version of “only Nixon could go to China”.

Another option is to intentionally escalate the rhetoric until Britain backs out. Then blame Tony Blair, who is then probably out as Prime Minister, but the Labor Party’s dominance likely endures. Find a way to tie this into Clinton as well. This tact would increase the global outrage, but the Republican base might enjoy the chance to further vent their outrage at the Europeans. This is unlikely.

Perhaps a better way for the administration to back down is to not back-down, but not start war either. Specifically, this involves a second UN resolution that in essence says “War starts when either or both Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei say it starts”. In this scenario, there would be two categories of reports that Blix and ElBaradei could make. The first would be regular progress updates and reports of obstruction of inspections, and on the basis of these, the UN Security Council could authorize or not authorize war. The second would be a list of trigger-items. If, at any time 14 days or more after passage of the resolution, inspectors formally report the presence of any Nuclear, Chemical or Biological weapons (and the definition of these would be clearly spelled out), only a super-majority of the Security Council (12/15, say-it would be spelled out in the resolution. I like 12/15; it means that the U.S. and Britain just have to convince one other country) can prevent war. The key is that the U.S. get a measurable and verifiable trigger along with up-front commitment to that trigger by the currently reluctant UNSC members. Kenneth Pollack might even support a plan like this.

There would need to be a face-saving quid pro quo for the administration. I think the most important would be commitments by Russia, France, and China to not use their veto power in any proceedings related to Iraq. The White House could draft appropriate spin: “Negotiating through the night with foreign leaders, President Bush reached a stunning compromise: War immediate upon discovery of WMD. France, Russia, China agree will not veto on Iraq.”

In an alternative version, replace the UN with NATO, which might make Bush’s base slightly less enraged.

Not yet addressed are the perceptions of the United States in the Muslim world. Certainly, not starting this war would be a good start on improving relations. But war or no, the administration should fulfill the commitments we made in Afghanistan, immediately.

Angry Bear