"I get to decide that"

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Let me transpose two quotes from yesterday: “War,” said French President Jacques Chirac, “is always the admission of defeat, and is always the worst of solutions.”

“If Saddam Hussein will not disarm,” said our president, “the United States of America and friends of freedom will disarm Saddam Hussein.”

This was, of course, the same French president who, not so long ago, seemed to be tilting toward accepting a UN resolution for an American war in Iraq, and may tilt that way again in the end. (I was amused by the blunt hope expressed in the following bit buried in a New York Times piece yesterday: “Some administration officials expressed the belief that France and other reluctant allies, accepting American military action as inevitable, would be won over in the end — perhaps out of concern that their businesses might lose any role in exploiting Iraq’s oil.”) Nonetheless, Chirac’s statement is simple, elegant, and should be engraved on every memorial to the war dead on earth.

On the other hand, George Bush’s statement — those strange, alliterative “friends of freedom” rang a strange bell for me. There was a period when my kids were small during which I wrote about the business of childhood and spent much time checking out children’s TV. There, superheroes backed by groups with alliterative names like “the friends of freedom” weekly fought off supervillains who belonged to organizations with acronyms like D.O.O.M. So perhaps we now know how both the president and I spent part of our time in the 1980s. Unfortunately, he still seems to be watching.

What’s happening then re: Iraq. The British Guardian today insists on the basis of those “authoritative sources in Washington and London” — a different group perhaps than the “senior officials” who appear endlessly in the New York Times and Washington Post — that we’re only weeks away from war, that “months” is a banned term in the White House, and that we’ll soon have an “Adlai Stevenson” moment at the UN. Among the many striking bits in the piece below is this sorry Washington quote about the role of British PM Tony Blair: “Blair is a good guy. They won’t want to do that to him [i.e. announce a decision for war before he arrives in Washington]. They want it to look like he played a part in the policy-making but the decision has been made.”

On the other hand, the LA Times is reporting today that the Americans and the Brits are considering a compromise which would add weeks onto the inspections. To read this LA Times piece click here

And in the meantime, those “senior officials close to…” like Rice and Wolfowitz are suddenly out on the circuit, making the case that wasn’t being made for what seemed like months. Here, for instance, is a bit of Wolfowitz on Iraq and terror:

“Iraq’s weapons of mass terror and the terror networks to which the Iraqi regime are linked are not two separate themes – not two separate threats. They are part of the same threat. Disarming Iraq and the War on Terror are not merely related. Disarming Iraq of its chemical and biological weapons and dismantling its nuclear weapons program is a crucial part of winning the War on Terror.”
It’s well worth considering his version of the case for war at the Global Security.org website. To do so click here

And then news is suddenly pouring out of intelligence sources in London and Washington on Iraq’s hidden WMD, and preparations to use it, none of which we can really have the slightest way of assessing (except, of course, to realize that any of it could be so). It seems that the situation is fluid. Or rather the massive, relentless energy being mobilized for war in Washington has run up against a world that wants any other solution at all.

I leave the last word below to the ever sober Paul Rogers of the openDemocracy.net website. In his normal, quiet, analytic voice, he offers an assessment, from a British vantage point, of the possibilities of war or of something other in Iraq. As our president so classically said of making war, “I get to decide that.” But the world, as ever, turns out to be an exceedingly complex place filled with endless, unnerving surprises, especially for those who have forgotten the power of the popular will and what that has meant over the last centuries. Tom

The message from the Bush camp: “It’s war within weeks”
By Julian Borger in Washington, Ewen MacAskill and Simon Tisdall
Friday January 24, 2003
The Guardian

President George Bush is determined to go to war with Saddam Hussein in the next few weeks, without UN backing if necessary, according to authoritative sources in Washington and London.

The US president is “to turn up the heat” in his state of the union address on Tuesday.

“The pressure comes from President Bush and it is felt all the way down,” a European official said. “They’re talking about weeks, not months. Months is a banned word now.”

Mr Bush wanted the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, to force the issue of military action by presenting evidence of Saddam Hussein’s violations of UN resolutions immediately after weapons inspectors give their report to the UN on Monday. In Washington circles such an event is being referred to as the Adlai Stevenson moment.

The “Adlai Stevenson moment” has become Washington shorthand for the US presentation of its intelligence case.

To read more of this Guardian piece click here

Last chance to avoid war: a role for Blair?
By Paul Rogers
January 23, 2003

This week’s decision to commit 30,000 British troops to the Gulf was taken in the midst of rising domestic anti-war sentiment and concern within the UK cabinet itself about the dangers of open conflict with Iraq. Even at this late stage, is there an alternative to war?

The idea that Britain might need an exit strategy from its commitment to the Bush administration over Iraq may seem fanciful in this week of all weeks – when Tony Blair’s government despatched as large a proportion of its armed forces to the war as Margaret Thatcher did in November 1990, on the eve of the last Gulf war.

Furthermore, the linkage between Downing Street and the White House is extraordinarily close, with Blair meeting George W. Bush next week, immediately after the UN inspectors, UNMOVIC report to the United Nations (UN) Security Council on 27 January.

To read more Rogers click here