Present at . . . What?
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN - NYT, February 14, 2003 - originalThe tension that is now rising within the Western alliance, NATO and the U.N. over how to deal with Iraq is deeply disturbing. It raises fears that the postwar security system, which stabilized the world for 50 years, could come unglued if America intervenes alone in Iraq. At the birth of this security system, Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote a memoir titled "Present at the Creation." Can we deal with Iraq and still ensure that Secretary of State Colin Powell's memoir is not titled "Present at the Destruction"?
Yes, we can — if we, the Russians, the Chinese and the French all take a deep breath, understand our common interests and pursue them with a little more common sense and a little less bluster.
That means the Bush hawks need to realize they cannot achieve their ultimate aim of disarming and transforming Iraq without maximum international legitimacy. And the Euro-doves need to realize they cannot achieve their aims of a peaceful solution in Iraq and preserving the U.N. and the whole multilateral order without a credible threat of force against Saddam Hussein.
Let's start with the Bush hawks. The first rule of any Iraq invasion is the pottery store rule: You break it, you own it. We break Iraq, we own Iraq — and we own the primary responsibility for rebuilding a country of 23 million people that has more in common with Yugoslavia than with any other Arab nation. I am among those who believe this is a job worth doing, both for what it could do to liberate Iraqis from a terrible tyranny and to stimulate reform elsewhere in the Arab world. But it is worth doing only if we can do it right. And the only way we can do it right is if we can see it through, which will take years. And the only way we can see it through is if we have the maximum allies and U.N. legitimacy.
We don't need a broad coalition to break Iraq. We can do that ourselves. But we do need a broad coalition to rebuild Iraq, so that the American taxpayer and Army do not have to bear that full burden or be exposed alone at the heart of the Arab-Muslim world. President Bush, if he alienates the allies from going to war — the part we can do alone — is depriving himself of allies for the peace — the part where we'll need all the friends we can get.
No question — Saddam never would have let the U.N. inspectors back in had President Bush not unilaterally threatened force. But if Mr. Bush keeps conveying to China, France and Russia that he really doesn't care what they think and will go to war anyway, their impulse will be to never come along and just remain free riders.
The allies also have a willful blind spot. There is no way their preferred outcome, a peaceful solution, can come about unless Saddam is faced with a credible, unified threat of force. The French and others know that, and therefore their refusal to present Saddam with a threat only guarantees U.S. unilateralism and undermines the very U.N. structure that is the best vehicle for their managing U.S. power.
We need a compromise. We need to say to the French, Russians and Chinese that we'll stand down for a few more weeks and give Saddam one last chance to comply with the U.N. disarmament demands — provided they agree now that if Saddam does not fully comply they will have the U.N. authorize the use of force.
If war proves inevitable, it must be seen as the product of an international decision, not an American whim. The timing cannot be determined by the weather or the need to use troops just because they are there. You cannot launch a war this important now simply because it's going to be hot later. I would gladly trade a four-week delay today for four years of allied support after a war. I would much prefer a hot, legitimate, U.N.-approved war with the world on our side to a cool, less legitimate war that leaves us owning Iraq by ourselves.
France, China and Russia have to get serious, but so do we. The Bush talk that we can fight this war with just a "coalition of the willing" — meaning Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — is dangerous nonsense. There is only one coalition that matters to the average American and average world citizen. It is one approved by the U.N. and NATO. We may not be able to garner it, but we need to be doing everything we can — everything — to try before we go to war.
Why? Because there is no war we can't win by ourselves, but there is no nation we can rebuild by ourselves — especially Iraq.