Pushing Saddam Against the Wall
Pushing Saddam Against the Wall
"It is important to push the Iraqis up against a wall and not leave them any way out regarding the questions which they must answer and on which really active cooperation is expected."
Who said that? The French government, in a "non-paper" circulated in early February. Despite the sound and fury clouding discussion in the UN Security Council, such language suggests that tough measures to deal with Saddam Hussein are not taboo in Paris, and it invites creative efforts to shape a common approach to compel Iraqi disarmament.
Take the French at their word. As part of a beefed-up inspections process, Paris is committing Mirage IV aircraft to supplement American U-2s flying surveillance missions over Iraq. The advent of those surveillance flights affords an opportunity short of war for both governments to demonstrate that they share a determination to force Iraqi compliance with U.N. requirements. Two specific measures commend themselves, both within the bounds of existing authority.
First, with both American and French pilots at risk in flights over Iraq, it should be made clear that they will be provided armed support. That means arming the Mirages and providing the high-flying U-2s with armed escorts. The message to Iraq should be explicit: Any threat to the surveillance aircraft, whether by tracking them by Iraqi air defense radars or firing on them, will bring immediate attacks on those defenses. There is no reason why pilots flying UN missions should be exposed to hazards of interference by so violent a regime as the one in Baghdad. In addition to putting teeth into the demand that Iraq meet its obligations, moving to armed surveillance should be attractive to President Bush: If there are attacks on the inspection aircraft, immediate countermeasures will contribute to the suppression of Iraqi air defenses that would be part of any larger military campaign.
Second, for the several hours during which each surveillance mission takes place, Iraqi military units should be frozen in their bases, i.e. no movements by organized Iraqi forces for that period. One reason for that demand is to fix in place mobile air defenses deployed by Iraq. A second is to make certain that Iraqi forces do not impede any related UNMOVIC or IAEA inspection operations under way at those times - which may benefit from surprise. This degree of coercion is wholly reasonable for the United Nations to insist upon until the government in Baghdad actively cooperates in the disarmament it has pledged to complete.
Forging agreement on concrete steps like these should disabuse Saddam Hussein of any notion that he can play Security Council members off against each other. Evidently, there is no consensus to invade Iraq at present, nor is there broad support for the idea of changing the regime of a sovereign member of the United Nations. Nevertheless, as the French statement cited earlier indicates, key states agree on the objective of denying Iraq any alternative to eliminating its banned weapons - and to proving that it has done so.
Defining and applying forceful measures short of invasion can push Saddam Hussein further against the "wall", while demonstrating that those urging a slower march to war are prepared to use force to back up their words, if that is unavoidable. Few coercive options remain short of a major attack on Iraq. They should commend themselves both to the United States and to those governments who argue that the proper stance now is to bolster the inspections process before reaching a decision to employ major force.
President Bush has said repeatedly that he would prefer an approach within the United Nations framework to working through a less-substantial coalition of the willing without a clear UN mandate. Mr. Bush has shown remarkable discipline in controlling any impulse to hasty action on Iraq. His stern rhetoric should not obscure the measured steps he has taken since last summer - first enlisting congressional support for military action, if necessary, then engaging the UN Security Council through his historic address last fall. He and Secretary of State Colin Powell pursued intense diplomacy to produce Resolution 1441 that gave Saddam Hussein a final opportunity to rid himself of weapons of mass destruction and prohibited missiles.
Implementing Resolution 1441 could do more than resolve the immediate Iraqi crisis. It could set the standard for a vigorous and effective Security Council to fulfill, belatedly, the ambitions set for it in the UN Charter. And, a decade or so hence, the president's statecraft could earn him historic standing as the savior of the UN security system. Bush has invested a great deal in this process, and he has a tremendous stake in its success. It is not yet time to abandon it.
Joe Clark (MP) was Canada’s 16th Prime Minister and is the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party; Alton Frye is Presidential Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.