In yesterday’s blog post, I said that George Bush may have misspoken when he changed the rules for the game of Iraq war in midstream by announcing to an AEI audience that Sadaam now had to completely disarm his entire country to satisfy the U.S. Well, in today’s New York Times, Ari Fleischer did me the favor of clarifying that this was not imprecision; Bush actually HAS made a radical revision in his policy regarding Iraqi disarmament. “As opposition to war stiffened in the UN Security Council, the Bush Administration set a new standard …that could be out of reach for Saddam…and, perhaps, the world body.”
“The White House [thus] set the bar beyond the reach of the inspection force that is working on only half of the equation–disarmament.” Another front page article New Element in Iraq’s Mix says: “Fleischer told reporters…that Iraq must ‘completely and totally” disarm or its leader must ‘go into exile.’ Pressed on the point, …Fleischer said…disarmament was the UN’s (!?) goal and changing Iraq’s government was the president’s. The statement puts the U.S. on a different track from the UN.” His new “policy” directly contradicts many statements he’s made on the subject in the past, as the Times has noted today (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/01/international/middleeast/01IRAQ.html). It says: “As the Security Council took up its disarmament work last fall, Bush made a point of stating ‘regime change’ could be defined as a decision by Hussein to change his stripes fundamentally and give up all his weapons of mass destruction. ‘If he were to meet all the conditions of the UN…that in itself will signal that the regime has changed.’ A changed Hussein, in other words, could survive.”
Interestingly, George’s father, GHW Bush has weighed in on the subject too. “It would be much better to act with as much international support as possible.” George, Jr., are you listening??
George’s moving of the goal posts in midgame is a cynical ploy by a politician who is watching as support for one of his dearest policy objectives slips out of reach. So if he sets the bar impossibly high for Sadaam & the UN, then both must fail the U.S. “test.” This, of course, is exactly what Bush wants. Sadaam has acceded to almost every major directive of the UN weapons inspectors, including the dismantling of the Samoud missiles. Momentum is shifting in peace’s favor. Much of the Security Council and the world is arrayed against the U.S. position. Bush is beginning to realize that he will lose the effort to pass the second UN Security Council resolution that he needs for war. So he figures that he might as well up the ante impossibly high. This is a terribly cynical, not to mention erratic policy shift. Until now, we had a policy, no matter how wrongheaded it was; now, we have a new policy that goes far beyond the first; This new policy takes us even farther from our opponents and even some of our allies in the UN and world community. We were out on a limb before; now there’s no limb under us at all.
While all of this alarms me, part of me is quite satisfied because the more erratic Bush’s policy decisions appear to the world and the American people, the faster his popularity will fall and his political power dissipate. What is frightening is that in the process of undermining his power, Bush may get us into a horrifying war with murky goals and sloppy execution: a recipe for bloodshed and confusion in Iraq and the region.