A war policy in collapse
By James Carroll
Boston Globe -March 4, 2003
WHAT A DIFFERENCE a month makes. On Feb. 5, Secretary of State Colin
Powell made the Bush administration's case against Iraq with a show of
authority that moved many officials and pundits out of ambivalence and
into acceptance. The war came to seem inevitable, which then prompted
millions of people to express their opposition in streets around the
globe. Over subsequent weeks, the debate between hawks and doves took on
the strident character of ideologues beating each other with fixed
positions. The sputtering rage of war opponents and the grandiose
abstractions of war advocates both seemed disconnected from the
relentless marshaling of troops. War was coming. Further argument was
fruitless. The time seemed to have arrived, finally, for a columnist to
change the subject.
And then the events of last week. Within a period of a few days, the war
policy of the Bush administration suddenly showed signs of incipient
collapse. No one of these developments by itself marks the ultimate
reversal of fortune for Bush, but taken together, they indicate that the
law of ''unintended consequences,'' which famously unravels the best-laid
plans of warriors, may apply this time before the war formally begins.
Unraveling is underway. Consider what happened as February rolled into
Tony Blair forcefully criticized George W. Bush for his obstinacy on
global environmental issues, a truly odd piece of timing for such
criticism from a key ally yet a clear effort to get some distance from
Washington. Why now?
The president's father chose to give a speech affirming the importance
both of multinational cooperation and of realism in dealing with the
likes of Saddam Hussein. To say, as the elder Bush did, that getting rid
of Hussein in 1991 was not the most important thing is to raise the
question of why it has become the absolute now.
For the first time since the crisis began, Iraq actually began to
disarm, destroying Al Samoud 2 missiles and apparently preparing to
bring weapons inspectors into the secret world of anthrax and nerve
agents. The Bush administration could have claimed this as a victory on
which to mount further pressure toward disarmament.
Instead, the confirmed destruction of Iraqi arms prompted Washington to
couple its call for disarmament with the old, diplomatically discredited
demand for regime change. Even an Iraq purged of weapons of mass
destruction would not be enough to avoid war. Predictably, Iraq then
asked, in effect, why Hussein should take steps to disarm if his
government is doomed in any case? Bush's inconsistency on this point --
disarmament or regime change? -- undermined the early case for war. That
it reappears now, obliterating Powell's argument of a month ago, is
fatal to the moral integrity of the prowar position.
The Russian foreign minister declared his nation's readiness to use its
veto in the Security Council to thwart American hopes for a UN
ratification of an invasion.
Despite Washington's offer of many billions in aid, the Turkish
Parliament refused to approve US requests to mount offensive operations
from bases in Turkey -- the single largest blow against US war plans
yet. This failure of Bush diplomacy, eliminating a second front, might
be paid for in American lives.
The capture in Pakistan of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a senior Al Qaeda
operative, should have been only good news to the Bush administration,
but it highlighted the difference between the pursuit of Sept. 11
culprits and the unrelated war against Iraq. Osama bin Laden, yes.
Saddam Hussein, no.
Administration officials, contradicting military projections and then
refusing in testimony before Congress to estimate costs and postwar
troop levels, put on display either the administration's inadequate
preparation or its determination, through secrecy, to thwart democratic
procedures -- choose one.
In other developments, all highlighting Washington's panicky ineptness,
the Philippines rejected the help of arriving US combat forces, North
Korea apparently prepared to start up plutonium production, and Rumsfeld
ordered the actual deployment of missile defense units in California and
Alaska, making the absurd (and as of now illegal) claim that further
tests are unnecessary.
All of this points to an administration whose policies are confused and
whose implementations are incompetent. The efficiency with which the US
military is moving into position for attack is impressive; thousands of
uniformed Americans are preparing to carry out the orders of their
civilian superiors with diligence and courage. But the hollowness of that
civilian leadership, laid bare in the disarray of last week's news, is
That the United States of America should be on the brink of such an
ill-conceived, unnecessary war is itself a crime. The hope now is that --
even before the war has officially begun -- its true character is already
manifesting itself, which could be enough, at last, to stop it.
James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.
This story ran on page A15 of the Boston Globe on 3/4/2003.