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War or Diplomacy in Iraq

February 28, 2003 at 12:00 AM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: For more now on the state of diplomatic play at the United Nations we get two views. John Ruggie was assistant secretary-general at the United Nations from 1997 to 2001. He’s now a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He’s written extensively on international relations and is the author of The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.

Professor Ruggie, today the Russians hinted that they are closer to stating their intentions on the new resolution The Pakistanis confirm that they wouldn’t vote against it. If you’re keeping a score chart, is the shape of the final vote becoming more clear?

JOHN RUGGIE: Not quite. I don’t think that everybody is quite there yet. There are six key swing votes, mostly small and poor countries. And they would rather not be on the spot. They would rather this issue go away, and they haven’t made up their mind yet. There is a joker in the deck that’s emerged just in the last 24 hours, and that is a Canadian proposal, which would be a compromise of sorts between the U.S. and British resolution, on the one hand, and the German-French proposal on the other. What is specific about it and unique about it is that it would actually set a definite date for the end of inspections and for a ministerial meeting at the Security Council on March 31 to make a final decision.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, Canada is not a member of the Security Council. Give us a process explanation. How does that get to the table, as it were, and get to the same spot as the U.S.-British-Spanish proposal, which those are three members of the Security Council?

JOHN RUGGIE: Well, there is only one formal proposal, and that is the U.S., British, and Spanish proposal. Then there is a so-called memorandum, which the French and the Germans and the Russians have circulated. The Canadians’ proposal is even more informal and it’s floating around the corridors, but it doesn’t take very much to get someone to bring it into the chamber in informal consultations.

But the action isn’t simply in New York. The action is also out in the capitals of those six key swing votes. Guinea, for example, is one of the world’s poorest countries, and they’re about to play a major walk-on role in history because tomorrow on March 1, they become president of the Security Council. They have been visited by British and American officials, offering help with Guinea’s problems, which Guinea has been hoping for, for many years and hasn’t received. Other countries, the Cameroon’s, are also on the Council are also looking to the U.S. for certain kinds of help. Angola is looking to the U.S. for help.

It is turning into a bit of a yard sale, as it were, back in the capitals. And at the moment the debate in the Council is a bit circular and waiting for instructions from back home. At the end of the day, the U.S. may eke out nine votes, but not because other countries necessarily agree with the United States, but because they don’t want to get run over by a train they can’t stop.

RAY SUAREZ: Max Boot, how do the lines that are being drawn up in the Security Council look to you?

MAX BOOT: The first thing to say, Ray, is that this whole process is a little bit unseemly. I mean, this is kind of like the wheeling and dealing you see before an appropriations bill passes the Senate. You want Senator So and So’s vote so you offer him a water project or another person’s vote and you offer him a park or something like that. This is the kind of wheeling and dealing, which is going on, which is a little bit silly because we are discussing very serious issues of war and peace.

But unfortunately, this is a byproduct of the Bush administration’s strategy, which is to go for another U.N. resolution, the 18th all told now on Iraq, and that gives an inordinate amount of power to countries like Cameroon and Guinea and others who do not normally figure very large in the affairs of the world. To me, this seems to be a very high risk strategy, which may pay on off, but also has a very high risk of failure. I’m not sure why they are doing this because you have prominent Democrats like Dick Holbrooke saying they don’t need to get another resolution. Resolution 1441 was very strong; it was passed by a unanimous vote and I think everybody pretty much agrees that Iraq is not living up to 1441. It has not fully disarmed. They may have made a small show of destroying some missiles, which they’re going to do perhaps tomorrow, but they have really not fully disarmed.

Based on that, I think the United States and its allies would be fully justified in upholding 1441 and taking military action against Saddam Hussein but the Bush administration has decided to gamble, partly in order to shield its allies and Britain and Turkey and elsewhere by trying to get another U.N. resolution, and as Prof. Ruggie says, it’s anybody’s guess how this will turn out.

RAY SUAREZ: You say to shield its allies. Could it also be to firm up domestic public opinion?

MAX BOOT: I don’t think this is going to be a huge domestic opinion. I think if you look at the public opinion polls, they show that people are solidly behind the administration in this — what may be this coming war. I think it’s largely to provide cover for Tony Blair and the Turks and various others. But to me this seems a somewhat short-sighted strategy because I think ultimately the kind of political hit that our allies will take will depend almost entirely on how the war goes. If it goes well, there are not going to be any recriminations after hand. Nobody is going to remember how many U.N. resolutions there were. American troops are greeted as liberators if they are successful, I think everybody will immediately forget that they opposed the war and it will be greeted with public acclamation. If, on the other hand, the war goes badly, I don’t think any number of U.N. resolutions are going to be sufficient to shield Tony Blair or other leaders who have taken a courageous stand from the consequences of their actions.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Ruggie, this week the Iraqis said yes they would go ahead with starting tomorrow the destruction of the al-Samoud missiles. Hans Blix called it a significant piece of disarmament and it was almost immediately dismissed in Washington and by the British prime minister. What do you read in that?

JOHN RUGGIE: Well, it’s part of the toing and froing that’s going on right now. It is a significant piece of disarmament, but it is only one piece. The analogy that the White House used yesterday, I believe is taking a bullet out of a gun. It isn’t sufficient and in fact Hans Blix’s report that has gone to the Council just this evening indicates also that thus far, the disarmament efforts have been relatively limited. But at the same time, this is a non-trivial development. The Iraqis, after all, did declare these missiles. They weren’t discovered by the inspectors crawling around in nooks and crannies in Iraq.

RAY SUAREZ: Max Boot, the missiles, are they an important part of this whole story for you?

MAX BOOT: I don’t think they’re that important. I think that Iraq is doing the minimal necessary in order not to give France a reason to jump off the bandwagon and to wind up supporting another U.N. resolution. I think they’re doing just enough to get by. But as Tony Blair said, you know, it’s very nice that they’re going to destroy the missiles, but what about the thousands of tons of chemical and biological weapons which we know they have, which they haven’t accounted for and also what about that very compelling presentation that Sec. Powell made to the U.N. Security Council? I think that tends to get forgotten, that he presented very compelling evidence of how Iraq is trying to hinder the weapon inspectors, how it is trying to hide its weapons and how it also is now linked to al-Qaida. That evidence is still out there. And I think that is very troubling to see and remains unaddressed in any way by the Iraqi authorities, any serious way.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, tomorrow, Max Boot, the Turkish parliament is set to… or it has been scheduled to vote anyway on the permission to base U.S. troops in advances of an attack on Iraq on Turkish soil: A critical vote for the United States?

MAX BOOT: Absolutely. I think the Turks will ultimately be there with us. In the end, they clearly extracted the maximum concessions out of this process they could possibly get. This goes back to the bazaar sale aspect of this thing, but I think ultimately at the end of the day the Turks know at the end of the day that their interests lie with the United States. And if they want to say in post-war Iraq and if they’re worried about the development of the Kurdish autonomous zone in Iraq, they better be on board with the coalition and be allied with the United States and the process going forward if they want to have a say in how the peace is shaped.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Ruggie, is there a chance for a surprise from the Turks? This vote has been delayed several times. There has been a rise in anti-war public opinion in Turkey — some reluctance on the part of generals, who according to the Constitution, have a big part in making the decision.

JOHN RUGGIE: I think this is a very hard decision for Turkey as it is a hard decision for Pakistan when they have to cast a vote on the Security Council, but I think Max Boot is right, that in the end, the Turks will probably come through. The issue should not be framed, I don’t believe, however, as one between doing nothing and allowing Saddam to get away with continued cheating, or immediately supporting the United States resolution. The members of the Security Council yesterday, in a very acrimonious discussion, tried to make it clear that very few among them have any kind of sense that Iraq is not cheating, that Iraq should not be stopped. The issue is can we bring the rest of the Security Council along with us? Can we wait for them to catch up? Is another month possible? That was the tone of the discussion yesterday. Not whether Saddam should get away with things or not.

RAY SUAREZ: And is your sense of it, Max Boot, that this vote is coming soon after the next Blix report which comes a week from today?

MAX BOOT: It’s hard to say. If the votes aren’t there, there is not going to be a vote. The U.S. and Britain will just yank the resolution. If they feel the votes are there they probably will seek a vote soon after Hans Blix’s report on March 7. But the point that Prof. Ruggie just made about not wanting to rush into things and wait to get agreement on the U.N. Security Council, I’m not sure you are going to have unanimity. This process has been going on for 12 years now. Many resolutions have been passed, 17 all together. And there is still not unanimity despite the fact that, as Prof. Ruggie says, everybody agrees that Saddam Hussein is not living up to the 17 resolutions. But despite that, there is still deep divisions over what to do about it.

And ultimately, I think that the French simply, in particular France, to a lesser extent Russia, simply do not want to take military action against Iraq. And maybe they will acquiesce in the end and abstain and not use their veto but it is going to be a very close run thing because they’ve staked out their position very clearly over the past decade which is against military action.

RAY SUAREZ: And quickly, Prof. Ruggie, what do you hear about the state of vote professor?

JOHN RUGGIE: It is hard to say because we are a week away and anything can happen. But my prediction would be that we would get nine votes and there will not be any vetoes. I think in the end, France will also abstain.

RAY SUAREZ: Gentlemen, thank you very much.