Anti-war running room to the NYT's left!

A mostly political Weblog.
Feb. 7 2003 5:09 AM

How Smoking Was It?

Plus: Hillary's state-of-the-art witlessness.

I can think of two arguments against Bob Wright's case for delaying war until beefed-up inspections can find a gun that's smokin' enough to convince an extra 25 percent of the Arab world (which, I agree, would be something worth delaying war for):

1) What if even hundreds of inspectors don't find this smoking gun;

2) What if, while they're looking, the will to go to war fades and the UN-based anti-Saddam military coalition somehow collapses? ...

Wright's argument is made both in the NYT and in Slate. ... If I learn of an answer to these questions, I'll post it. ... Update--Wright responds:


1) There already are "hundreds" of inspectors. I'm talking about many hundreds or even thousands--even if we have to conduct a crash inspector-training program to get them.

2) My Times piece recommended that Bush take advantage of Blix's first report and draft a security council resolution defining various specific acts of non-cooperation with inspectors as a trigger for war. I argued it would be hard for even France to veto a resolution designed to give Blix the cooperation he wants. I didn't have the space to elaborate, but here are the kinds of things I had in mind:

Insist that all known Iraqi weapons scientists be delivered to UN inspectors for multi-day interrogation. If any of them fails to answer any questions, that is grounds for war. (These are government employees, remember, so we can hold Iraq accountable for their behavior.) Insisting that Iraq actually deliver all scientists, rather than that it just let them "volunteer," is key, since scientists don't want to be seen (by Hussein) volunteering even if the regime is technically allowing this.

Then, once you get these scientists alone, you tell them that if, after the regime change, they're found to have lied about anything during this interrogation, they'll be put on trial with punishment ranging up to life in prison. (You could even spell this out, if vaguely, in the resolution.) You also assure them that, in the meanwhile, you won't act on any bit of information that could only have come from them, as that might expose them or their families to retaliation. Interviewing these guys in parallel, and comparing notes from the different interviews, I think you'd start finding some interesting stuff. (You could even keep them incommunicado, with representatives of human rights NGOs there to verify that they're not abused.) If gathering up all their families and putting them in a secure location is feasible, you could do that, too.

3) The aerial surveillance--which my theoretical resolution would insist on, and which Saddam may be agreeing to anyway even as I write--would be a big help.

Given that the more meager and constrained inspections we've had so far have already (a) happened upon some empty chemical warheads and (b) sent the Iraqis scurrying, destroying and moving things just in time, it's hard to imagine these greatly enhanced inspections not hitting paydirt before long.

OK, you ask, but what if this takes awhile, and meanwhile the UN-based coalition collapses? First of all, as of this moment, there isn't a clear UN-based coalition--i.e., a coalition that will get us another resolution that won't be vetoed. My approach might get us one. Second, Bush is obviously willing in the end to go with a coalition of the willing, so we'll eventually get regime change one way or another.

Might this form of regime change be a little worse than leading a coalition of the willing right now? Possibly, yes--and in that sense my approach has risks and downsides. BUT ALL OTHER OPTIONS ON THE TABLE HAVE MASSIVE RISKS AND DOWNSIDES--SUCH AS TRIGGERING A TIME-RELEASE APOCALYPSE. (Maybe I exaggerate, but the long-term consequences for America of a unilateralish war and occupation widely deemed illegitimate could be pretty bad.)

I've noticed that often, when you're entertaining a suggested strategy or policy, you go, "But what if this happens..." and then you seem to adopt the stance that, unless someone can convince you that this won't happen, you can't possibly embrace the policy. But in a case like this all policies have a bad-outcome scenario, and the question is in which cases are the dire scenarios least dire and/or least probable.

Finally, let me note that all the hawks who opposed going through the U.N. and getting the first round of weapons inspections have these very inspections to thank for the phone transcripts and satellite photos that Powell employed so persuasively on Wednesday. So their opposition to further inspections deserves some skepticism.

More: Jessica Tuchman Mathews, writing in WaPo, has some more ideas on how to make inspections  quickly effective  -- including a) bombing any sites being sanitized and b) bringing back all the old inspectors who are now "sitting in television studios" because of Baghdad's opposition or "the usual U.N. need for geographic balance in hiring." (Does affirmative action aid terrorism!?) ...

Note, however, that Mathews's and Wright's tough-inspection scenarios seem to have different endings. Mathews wants to "effectively disarm Saddam" while Wright's Times proposal ends with a regime change, but under circumstances designed to minimize the long-term costs (of either Muslim anti-Americanism or a unilateral precedent).  The question for Mathews is: If the "coercive" inspectors do find weapons of mass destruction, hidden by Saddam after what you call his "active effort to deceive, evade, and thwart" the inspection teams, should the U.N. really leave him in power? Is that such a good precedent for other potential WMD proliferators? (Build weapons, hide them, deceive inspectors, and the worst that happens is you lose the weapons?) ... 10:18 P.M.

They really mean it: Today's NYT Iraq editorial  says nothing again! That's two straight days of muddle. Maybe this one's for emphasis.  ... Admittedly, they say nothing slightly less pompously today -- but more unnecessarily.... ... If the Times can sustain its moving, meaningful inconclusiveness through Sunday's editorials, it should be eligible for some sort of award. ... P.S.: Why the placeholder editorials? Obvious guess: They must be having some sort of internal argument. (Pinch v. Howell?) Your assignment, Mr. Pappu. ... 2:01 A.M.

Frum-Skippers? The ever-more-dominant ABC Note writes:

Some day, if anyone ever writes a truly revealing memoir of this Bush term, we would bet you dollars to Krispy Kremes that they will write that the administration knew the economy was MUCH worse than they let on at the time, and that they were consistently amazed that it didn't do the president, and his party, more political harm.

Shouldn't David Frum sue? Not only has Frum already written a memoir, but he has already written that the administration knew the economy was much worse than they let on at the time. In the spring of 2001, Frum writes,