War — What’s this one good for?
Following the news this week has been confusing to say the least. Did the United States have 11 votes on the Security Council? Eight? Nine? Four? The vote is going to happen Friday. Or maybe next week. The March 17 deadline for Iraq to disarm is firm, or maybe it isn’t. Maybe the United States will just say, “to hell with it,” and launch the bombers. Or maybe it will continue to go “the extra mile” for diplomacy. Who the hell knows?
It’s safe to say that reading the current Security Council is like trying to read tea leaves in a still-swirling cup. No one knows where the votes will come down until the last moment.
The U.S., for geo-strategic reasons, wants to go to war, very badly. France and Germany, for their own reasons, want to stop a war, very badly. Tony Blair may want to go to war, but I doubt he wants to very badly. If he does, in fact, take the U.K. into battle, he needs a new resolution very badly, or he might see his own regime changed before Baghdad’s. The rest of the Council — Russia, China, Syria, Angola, Pakistan, Guinea, Bulgaria, Spain, Mexico, Chile and Cameroon — is basically for sale.
As Stratfor points out, this is now a bidding war and being in between the U.S.-U.K. and France-Germany teams is the best place to be. Angola, Guinea et al., can sit back, keep the game going for as long as possible, get the bids (for aid, investment, military cooperation, state dinners or whatever) as high as possible and not let anyone know their prices until the very last moment. Why is it so hard to count noses on the Council on the issue of Iraq? Because the courted countries don’t know how they’ll vote until the gavel comes down and all bids are in.
And then we’ll have Mr. Bush’s splendid little war.
Ironic, isn’t it? I thought the point of diplomacy was to avoid war, but this bizarro diplomacy is intended (by the United States) to bless a war — and to keep the appearance of a coalition by keeping Britain in the game. France knows that whatever its actions, it can’t stop this train wreck — George W. Bush has already said the United States doesn’t need the U.N.’s permission — so Jacques Chirac’s intransigence is intended to …. what? Cement France’s position as the leader of the European counterweight to America? Keep the United Nations relevant, as though the dominant member’s ignoring the Security Council doesn’t render it irrelevant anyway?
This kerfluffle stopped being about Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, national interests and the efficacy of the United Nations long ago. Oh, national leaders say these are the reasons, but so many have refused to bend or compromise that everyone is painted into a diplomatic or military corner. Bush can’t back down because America will look weak and encourage more terrorist attacks. Of course, by waging an aggressive war against Iraq, that will encourage more terrorist attacks, too. Tony Blair can’t back down because he’ll be just as dead politically as he will be if he takes Britain to war without a resolution, so he might as well go forward and hope for a quick victory. France can’t back down because Chirac has committed France to opposing America’s hegemony. Iraq can’t back down because the United States will accuse it of more delaying tactics and deceptions and attack anyway. There’s no longer a good reason for any of this.
This isn’t the start of World War III, it’s the start of World War I — a very stupid war, started thanks to a tangle of alliances, national pride and personal egos involved. It never had to happen. And — again with the irony — WWI is the war that brought the world to this point, spawning the League of Nations, the failure of which led to World War II and the later creation of the United Nations and the Security Council. It also saw the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Kingdom of Iraq. And let’s not forget the use of chemical weapons — allegedly the reason for the great big army in the desert. It was a war that embodied the Law of Unintended Consequences.
I promised I wouldn’t make predictions about the start of the war, so perhaps I can make one about the end of it. When it’s over and the dust has settled, the United States will stand supreme in the world, powerful but hated, its boot on the throat of Iraq. The international frameworks built over the last 50 years, including the United Nations, will lie in ruins or will be about to collapse. Resentful young men, hearts full of fear, hate and Allah will find refuge and a raison d’etre as explosive martyrs. The world will be less safe — for everyone. And thousands of people — soldiers, civilians, innocent or not — will be dead. And for no good reason at all.