Wednesday, April 12, 2006

On actual weapons of mass destruction

Okay, so with Iran so determined to restart their nuclear program whether the rest of the world likes it or not, rumors are flying that Bush plans to revive his policy of preemptive strike by bombing Iran. Seymour Hersh takes a rather compelling look at it in the New Yorker.

Now, the White house is denying the rumors, calling them "wild speculation" (which is a non-denial denial if I've ever heard one). Bush says that while the option of airstrikes remains on the table, a diplomatic solution will be sought. Speaking at Johns Hopkins University, he said, "[M]y first advice is, never use force until you've exhausted all diplomacy" (the transcript didn't mention any laughter in the audience at that point).

The problem with diplomacy is that diplomacy is based on trust, and the US has lost a lot of trust in the world, particularly in the Middle East. In 2003, the US told Saddam Hussein that if he'd back away from the weapons program with his hands in the air, he wouldn't be attacked. Weapons inspectors were allowed in and, upon looking around, declared that Iraq had, at that time, no WMD, and had no realistic chance of acquiring them. The inspectors left, for their own safety, only when warned that the US was about to bomb Iraq anyway.

It hasn't been entirely apparent until now exactly how wildly Bush has squandered his political capital in the rest of the world. We laughed at the idea of a "coalition of the willing," we shook our heads as our allies began withdrawing, and we rolled our eyes when Bush reminded us not to forget Poland as a supporter of our actions in Iraq. Bush corralled a group of supporters who would back his Middle Eastern policy out of fear of economic - or, for that matter, military - retribution, and he expected that group to hold strong indefinitely. Now that fear of reprisal is less of a factor, potential allies are less inclined to get involved.

It's a somewhat simplistic but nevertheless true fact that trust will keep you safer than fear; a true ally will remain an ally even when you're not holding the gun. Under a policy of UN sanctions, Saddam Hussein had been unable to produce weapons of mass destruction since 1991. Reports that he wanted or hoped to produce such a program only underscored the fact that he couldn't. With the cooperation of an international organization, a goal was reached without bloodshed. Bush's preemptive strikes, threats, and name-calling ("Axis of Evil") have failed to uncover any Iraqi WMD, failed to stop Korea from developing their program, failed to find Osama bin Laden or convince any of our reluctant allies to help us do same, and now fails to keep Iran from doing precisely what they want with their nuclear program.

At this point, if the world will rely on President Bush to act as God-appointed protector from Iranian nukes, the end result will be nuclear war, because that's the only tool he has left (there's a pertinent saying about everything looking like a nail that could be thrown in here). Condoleezza Rice said today that the UN Security Council "will need to take into consideration this move by Iran," which is true, and that it should take "strong steps to make certain that we maintain the credibility of the international community," which is snort-chuckle ironic.

The US has taken the lead on the Iran nuclear issue because Bush feels that he's the best man for the job. He's wrong. It's not the job of the US, and it's certainly not his job, to make unilateral decisions on behalf of the rest of the world. When the Security Council reconvenes at the end of this month, Bush must be willing to take a step back and allow other countries to have some say in matters that affect them just as deeply as they do us; he can take that time to begin mending international fences and gaining back some of the trust he's lost. Yes, actions by the UN could be considered the devil we don't know, but when the devil we know almost certainly involves a mushroom cloud, it's a risk we have to be willing to take.

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