The Missiles of March

Nose aspect of an Ababil-100/Al-Samoud airframe mock-up. (Photo courtesy of UNSCOM)

Interesting. Iraq has agreed “in principle” to destroy its al-Samoud II missiles starting tomorrow, and chief U.N. weapons inspector Has Blix says this is “very significant.” President Bush, however, dismisses this out of hand and for the first time explicitly says war is coming and there’s no way to stop it.

“My attitude about Saddam Hussein is that if he had any intention of disarming, he would have disarmed,” Bush said. He added later: “We will disarm him now.”

Late Thursday, Iraq agreed “in principle” to fulfill the U.N. request but asked for U.N. guidance on how to proceed. Bush had pre-emptively dismissed the move: “Whatever you see him say now will be attempts to delay or deceive the world.”

And yet the Security Council is wracked by division as the U.S. and Britain attempt to strong-arm members to get the nine votes and no veto necessary for passage of the resolution introduced Monday that most of the major U.S. media has said would authorize war. (Actually, it doesn’t; it restates Resolution 1441 passed back in November which warned of “serious consequences” if Iraq didn’t comply — but only after the Security Council had decided on what the serious consequences would be.)
The U.S. and Britain have both said the U.N. will become irrelevant if it doesn’t “stand up” to Saddam and enforce its resolutions. Fine, there’s some validity to that, but won’t it also become irrelevant if the dominant member goes to war in defiance of the majority of the Council and the rest of the world body? None of that matters, anyway, as Bush said back in November that the United States would not be bound by “unproductive debate,” which, presumably, is how he and the rest of the hawks would view the current hand-wringing of the Council.
“The United States has agreed to discuss any material breach with the Security Council, but without jeopardizing our freedom of action to defend our country,” he said. “If Iraq fails to fully comply, the United States and other nations will disarm Saddam Hussein.”
OK. So many may be asking why did Bush bother to introduce a second resolution Monday if the United States is determined to go ahead in defiance of the Council? And why is it working so hard to get the nine votes if Council approval is nice but not necessary, as the White House has repeatedly claimed?
Because the polling numbers on the home front are not good. Many people say the public supports this war, pointing to numbers that say about 59 percent favor the war. That’s true, but the same Gallup Poll that reveals that figure reveals a shallow support that could easily shift. But most important, they reveal a public that really, really wants this to go down, if it must, with the U.N.’s blessing.
The first question, “Would you favor or oppose invading Iraq with U.S. ground troops in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power?” reveals a flat 59 percent in favor — mostly unchanged over the last five months — 37 percent opposed and 4 percent with no opinion. But it’s more complicated than that.
A later question shows why Team Bush is working the Council so hard. “As you may know, the U.S., Great Britain, and Spain plan to submit a resolution to the United Nations that says that Iraq is in serious violation of prior U.N. resolutions that required Iraq to disarm. Do you think the United States should invade Iraq with ground troops ? [ROTATED: only if the U.N. approves this new resolution, even if the U.N. does not approve this new resolution], or do you think the United States should not send ground troops to Iraq at all?” This is where the support “goes wobbly” as Maggie Thatcher might say. Forty percent favor an invasion if the U.N. approves, 38 percent even if the U.N. doesn’t approve and 3 percent have no opinion. Nineteen percent don’t think the U.S. should send troops at all.
And if Iraq destroys its missiles? Support for invasion, even if Iraq destroys its missiles, drops to 33 percent. Twenty-six percent might be opposed if Iraq destroys the missiles and 22 percent oppose war no matter what.
So you start to see the breakdown. “About half the public — 47%– say they could change their mind on invading Iraq, while 49% say their mind is already made up. The 49% whose mind is made up comprises 32% who favor invading and 17% who oppose, while the 47% who could change their mind currently show a slight preference for invading (27%) over not invading (20%).”
The bottom line is that roughly four in five Americans would favor war if the United Nations approved it, but only two in five, roughly, would favor war no matter what.
The poll was conducted Feb. 24-26, with most interviews completed prior to President George W. Bush’s national address on Iraq Wednesday night. The sample was a randomly selected group of 1,003 adults, 18 years and older. It has a 95 percent confidence and a maximum error of plus or minus 3 points.
These numbers show the rush behind the push, since Bush knows that support will drop off heavily if there’s no resolution. One wonders if Saddam can read polling results as well, and figures that he might be able to further soften Bush’s war support by dismantling the missiles.
While the Bush White House may warn of — and secretly hope for — the irrelevancy of the United Nations, the American public seems to be making it more relevant by the day.