Friday, December 06, 2002
And now, some thoughts on the brink of war.
First, if we aren't on the brink of war then the Bush Administration will go down in flames. You cannot raise the stakes as the President has with respect to Iraq and back down. He has, like it or not, placed American prestige on the line in an absolutely unequivocal manner. This is not 1962; there is no back-door way out, and the consequences of a retreat out the front door are catastrophic. I pray to G-d that the President fully understands this, because if not we are in for such trouble as we have not ever seen in this country's happy history.
Second, if war does come, it will come, as with Kossovo, without the explicit approval of the U.N., but with the tacit acceptance of the great powers. As with Kossovo, we will be breaking new ground in international law, and we don't know the ultimate consequences. Supporters of the war - and I include myself among them - have tended to downplay this aspect of things, but we probably shouldn't have, because we (well, not me, but the actual architects of the war) will be primarily responsible for dealing with those consequences. In the past, the justification for preemptive war was the rational expectation of imminent attack. The Six-Day War, begun with an Israeli preemptive strike, is a classic example. Iraq does not meet the test. Iraq is not about to attack anyone. What Iraq is, rather, is an urgent threat to international order because of the nature of the regime and its ambitions. That threat is absolutely real. But, since World War II, we have been living in a fictive world where the body responsible for handling such situations is the United Nations. The United Nations is manifestly incapable of doing so, even without the old U.S.-Soviet split rendering it impotent. As a result, NATO undertook the role of international enforcer of justice and protector of peace in Kossovo, usurping the ostensible role of the U.N. The United States - along with its NATO allies and whatever other allies we can pull together for the fight - is about to dramatically extend this usurpation to Iraq. In doing the U.N.'s job, and eliminating a criminal regime already indicted and convicted by prior U.N. resolutions, the United States will be destroying the United Nations as a world body.
I don't think I'm being overly dramatic here. The U.S. has at least four grounds for war with Iraq. First, Iraq is pursuing nuclear weapons and is an avowed enemy of America. It is in our national self-interest to prevent Iraq from achieving this capability, and stopping it means changing the regime. This is entirely legitimate from a moral and practical perspective. But it is not obviously legal. There's a good piece in Commentary (not online) walking through the justifications in law for action in Iraq, and the piece gets notably thin when it comes to justifying war on the grounds of an enemy's military buildup. We appear to be contending one of two things: either the existence of nuclear weapons in hostile hands is sufficient provocation to justify traditional preemptive war, or it justifies a new concept of preventative war. Neither is obviously provided for in traditional understanding of international law. Second, Iraq is guilty of collaboration in the September 11 attacks. That would be neat, but our government has refused to pursue this line of attack with any vigor, which presumably means there is no hard evidence of collaboration. Third, Iraq has directly threatened to attack America and its allies. This is a dubious line of argument, however, because the question is: what has changed? Iraq has not really changed policy for four years. What is the basis for arguing that now an attack is imminent? There isn't one. Fourth, and finally, Iraq is in violation of numerous U.N. resolutions, in violation of the Gulf War cease-fire, in violation of its treaty obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and in violation of various international rules on human rights and so forth. All true. But what is the basis for the U.S. arrogating to itself the responsibility for prosecuting these violations? International law will quickly come to a halt if it is understood that all nations can act as freelance prosecutors of violations anywhere on earth. Even the Gulf War ceasefire violations do not rise to the level of justification for war, because the authority for combat in the Gulf War came from the U.N., a body which has shown no inclination to declare such violations to be material, much less to authorize new hostilities.
Now, most conservatives wouldn't mind to see the back of the U.N. Neither would I. But Richard Holbrooke is right that the U.N. was created to promote a world conducive to American interests and values. If we are going to give up on the U.N., what are we installing in its place? The Administration's document covering these matters talks about cooperation among the Great Powers. That was the idea behind the U.N. as well. What will be different this time?
It looks like what will be different this time is: the new architecture will be unabashedly centered in America. NATO is the model, not the U.N. The emerging world order is more properly termed a "free world order" - a security architecture for largely free countries with strong ties of interest, values and culture, and a handful of not-terribly-free allies of convenience. Collectively, we the free world will be asserting our right - and, by implication, accepting our responsibility - not only to protect our collective interests, but also to maintain order and promote freedom in the rest of the world, and to do so by force when necessary.
That's a tall order. No taller than the U.N. charter, of course, but there will be no figleaf of global consensus about the new architecture. America has, since WWII, been the lynchpin of the international system; where we have abdicated responsibility, order has broken down. But we have served as such more quietly in the past. Will we be able to hold together our alliances and friendships with, for example, France, Canada, Mexico, Russia and Japan under this new system? Will NATO prove to be a good model for a global security architecture, or an artifact of the Soviet threat that cannot even be generalized to post-Cold-War Europe, much less to the whole world?
I fear, primarily, that this Administration, with its admirable instincts for what is right and what is necessary, has too few bold architects. It is a problem that we have a Colin Powell and not a George Marshall at State. We need not a cautious product of the existing system but a bold innovator, skilled at diplomacy but aware that a new architecture is necessary, and eager to build it. We need a man more like the Democrat Richard Holbrooke - or, for that matter, the Republican George Shultz.
That was a long Second. Third and finally, I pray as we enter upon this fateful enterprise that are hopes are more nearly in tune with the mind of G-d than our fears. Those bent on harm for harm's sake are the most difficult of enemies to thwart. If Saddam Hussein, Sheik Nasrullah, Yasser Arafat, Ayatollah Khamenei, or the rest of the gang of evildoers wish to burn half of Israel, I fear they will succeed. My hope, on the other hand, rests on all people's desire for peace and freedom - on the unwillingness of the Iraqi people to sacrifice themselves to satisfy a tyrant's megalomania. We shall soon find out which way the mind of G-d is inclined.
Enjoy the last night of Hanukkah. In the dawn's early light of Sunday morning, the world will be different, one way or the other.