A lot of people started the week thinking there would be war by Monday. A lot of people were wrong.
George W. Bush and Tony Blair began this process towards war thinking that the inertia created by placing 300,000 troops on the Iraqi border would create a gravity well within the United Nations Security Council ~V every nation would inevitably be sucked into the vortex. This has not proven to be the case. The situation is fluid, and the transfer of a few billion dollars here and there might change the geometry of the equation before the sun comes up. As it stands now, however, there will be no UN-approved war in Iraq.
It started with the drafting and submission of Resolution 1441. Bush and his people believed that Iraq would not accept the strictures this resolution placed upon them. When Iraq shrugged its shoulders and said 1441 was fine with them, when the inspectors got into the game, the Bush administration found itself playing catch-up. They have been doing so ever since.
Now, after a great deal of water under the bridge, the Security Council has opened the floor to all UN member states to air their thoughts and opinions regarding war in Iraq. This session is expected to last for two days, and will include statements from the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
All of this comes in the aftermath of France and Russia's declaration that they will veto any resolution involving war. Britain and Blair tried to put forth a bulleted list describing various finish lines Iraq would have to cross in order to avoid war, but the threatened vetoes pushed that suggestion onto the back burner. It may return, but for now the issue is all in a muddle.
This new phase is occurring within the context of hard words from the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan. Speaking this past Monday, Annan stated bluntly that if the Security Council fails to come to an agreement, "and action is taken without the authority of the Security Council, the legitimacy and support for any such action would be seriously impaired." In other words, if America attacks Iraq without a new resolution, the Bush administration will be seen as a rogue government by the international community.
This was not what the Bush administration expected. All of this is happening because the diplomatic push by the United States has thus far failed to line up the nine Security Council votes required to authorize war. Said push has been hard indeed, focused on the soft spots to be found on all six of the voting yet non-permanent members of the Council. If a handful of these non-permanent members can be swayed, Bush will have UN approval for his war. Those soft spots are manifestly obvious, if you know where to look:
- Guinea - America is the number one provider of economic aid to this nation, which is numbered among the fifteen poorest on earth. Last month, Washington and London sent emissaries to Conakry with an offer to increase the aid already provided, money that would likely go towards dealing with the 300,000 Liberan and Sierra Leonese refugees there. Were Guinea to vote against war, that aid could fail to appear;
- Angola - This nation has a great deal to lose with a vote against war. Angola is sixth on the list of top petroleum suppliers to America, ahead of Kuwait. A 'no' vote could see its three billion dollar contract with Exxon Mobil disrupted. Angola is just now emerging from a 27 year civil war, and has millions of refugees living on the edge of death within its borders. A 'no' vote could see the $90 million in aid from America jeopardized, while a 'yes' vote could see that aid increased. Angola has been refused access to an American commercial preference system called AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act). A 'yes' vote could see these doors opened. This would all be an interesting moral leap for the Bush administration, as Angola is one of the most corrupt nations on earth. Nearly a billion dollars in aid money disappears in Angola annually;
- Mexico - Our neighbor to the South has not been exempted from strong-arm tactics in this matter. Mexico has been waiting for the Bush administration to sign a treaty clarifying immigration issues, a treaty that will regularize illegal Mexican immigrants. A 'no' vote from President Fox could see that treaty go unsigned, dealing an economic blow to the Mexican economy;
- Chile - President Lagos is currently waiting for America to act on a free trade agreement important to the Chilean economy. A 'no' vote could see that agreement go unsigned;
- Cameroon - This nation enjoys a significant amount of aid from France, but does not wish to get involved in a public crunch with powerful America. President Biya has reason to be nervous. Cameroon receives aid from the AGOA program, aid which can be terminated if Cameroon is considered by the Bush administration to be interfering with American foreign policy;
- Pakistan - President Musharraf took an enormous gamble siding with America in the 'War on Terror,' given the restive Islamic fundamentalist population within his nation, and within his own armed services and intelligence apparatus. These groups are incredibly hostile to the idea of war in Iraq, as are rank-and-file Muslims who believe such a war will strengthen the hand of Pakistani extremists. Musharraf is balancing these sentiments against a different sort of threat ~V If he does not support the U.S., America may throw its support behind India in its ongoing struggle with Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir.
Of course, any of these nations considering accepting American promises for aid will remember Turkey circa the first Gulf War. Turkey was promised the world by the first Bush and left out to dry, explaining why they wanted cash on the barrelhead this time around.
The simple fact that these pressure points exist at all means that the issue is far from decided. Bush has stated repeatedly that he will go to war without the UN's approval, but it is manifestly obvious from all the diplomatic coinage spent lately that he would prefer otherwise. There is one reason, and one reason only, for this: Tony Blair. If America and Britain go to war in Iraq without the UN, Blair's government will fall apart around his ears. Blair is desperate to avoid this. Bush, for his part, will find it hard to go to war without the UN, but harder by orders of magnitude to go to war without Britain. The latest word out of London is that Blair, at last, has developed an acute case of cold feet. Time will tell if it takes hold.
The newest spin is that everything will be fine if the UN finds itself gutted and destroyed by all this. This is a deadly rhetorical leap. The UN has been instrumental in dealing with the prickly issues surrounding North Korea, China, Africa, famine control, disease control, arms control and the occasional genocide. Without the bureaucracy of the UN, there will be no one to address these issues. America could do this, supposedly, but one wonders if our budget and our anti-government leadership cottons to the conceptual bureaucracy and funding required to do so.
They won't. If Bush decides to wreck the United Nations, the world will transform before our eyes into a frothing nightmare that makes our current estate seem tame by comparison. At a minimum, nations that use the UN as their only voice on a global stage dominated by America will go far down the road to avoid losing that forum. These nations include the six non-permanent voting members, who have a lot to lose in this matter, but perhaps have more to gain by standing with the world against Bush.
Hovering over it all is the ticking clock. The seasons in Iraq will soon turn against American forces, and the American economy cannot long endure the uncertainty that has dominated this debate. Bush cannot lightly afford to fight this war unilaterally, but can less afford to wait.
Last Thursday, Bush gave a scripted press conference in which he stated that it was time for the nations of the world to "show their cards" on the matter of Iraq. Bush and Blair were dealing for war on a pair of kings. France and Russia are holding aces and betting them. The pot grows higher by the moment.
Scott Lowery contributed research to this report.