A model for Iraq

Posted: Sep 10, 2002 12:00 AM
On the eve of what is being billed as a major address to the United Nations, President Bush is being advised to emulate his father's approach on Iraq twelve years ago by making the cobbling together of a broadly based international coalition a precondition to taking on Saddam Hussein. It can only be hoped that -- under today's, very different circumstances -- Mr. Bush will base his diplomacy and actions on a very different model: his recent, hugely successful disentangling of the United States from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Interestingly, there are several noteworthy similarities between the two initiatives. In both cases, George W. Bush's guidance comes from the law of the land. When Mr. Bush became President, he inherited statutory direction adopted by overwhelming bipartisan majorities and signed by Bill Clinton in 1999 that made it the policy of the United States government to deploy effective missile defenses "as soon as is technologically possible." Another policy was also on the books, having been approved by Congress the year before and signed into law as well by President Clinton. It called for toppling Saddam and provided $97 million dollars to equip the Iraqi opposition to help us accomplish that goal. As was his wont, Mr. Clinton paid lip-service to these initiatives and took credit for enacting them, yet refused to take the steps necessary for the implementation of either one. Fortunately, Mr. Bush not only took an oath faithfully to uphold the law of the land; he is actually determined to do so. A second parallel involves the courage required to realize these policies. It is useful to recall that in the run-up to his decision to exercise America's right to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- a right conferred by the Treaty itself -- President Bush faced heated domestic and international criticism. Then, as now, he was warned of the dangers of acting "unilaterally," over the adamant objections of the international community and especially the United States' closest allies. The prospects that he would unleash grievous instability and perhaps even Armageddon by proceeding with missile defenses prohibited by the ABM Treaty are not too different from the threats Mr. Bush is told will emerge in the Arab world, and beyond, if he proceeds without a UN mandate for removing Saddam Hussein from power. In a characteristically lucid and bracing address to the Center for Security Policy last week, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer noted that this nation's founding document, the Declaration of Independence, calls for "due regard for the opinion of mankind." As with the intense consultations that preceded the Bush announcement last December that the United States would cease to adhere to the ABM Treaty, there is much to be said for thoroughly explaining our policy of regime change in Iraq and the factors that impel it to the leaders of other countries. That is not the same thing, however, as subordinating vital national interests to their "opinion." Our experience in the months since the ABM Treaty expired last June is surely relevant to the President's Iraq initiative, as well. Once it is clear that the United States is going to act pursuant to its perceived national requirements, and that it has both the capability and the leadership to see the policy through, most of the world gets with the program. Today, one scarcely hears about the ABM Treaty and the notion that Mr. Bush's action was actually going to propel the world into cataclysmic arms races, or worse, is seen by those candid enough to admit it for what it always was: Utter nonsense. To be sure, had the Russians behaved worse, they might have increased the political costs to Mr. Bush of U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. Some will argue that the lesson for "W." is that the Kremlin must be bought off if he wants to bring down the former Soviet Union's client in Baghdad without grave difficulty from Moscow. This would, however, be a misreading of recent history. While President Bush gave his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin political cover by agreeing to a new treaty formalizing mutual, unilateral commitments to cut strategic forces, as bribes go, it did not amount to much. (Of course, if the President so much as hints at a willingness to pay this time for Russia's acquiescence, Putin will try to charge him dearly.) What actually brought the Russians along on the ABM issue -- and what will prompt them to go along on Iraq -- is the appreciation of American resolve, and a recognition that there is no up-side to opposing us. Now some will argue that there is a crucial difference between these two politico-military-diplomatic initiatives. One involved rejection of a clearly outdated, albeit talismanic treaty, the other will involve a potentially highly destructive war. This conveniently ignores the assertions from some of the ABM Treaty's particularly hysterical supporters that destroying that "cornerstone of strategic stability" could lead not only to spiraling arms races but actual conflict. More importantly, the reality is that both President Bush's decision to adhere to the law of the land by withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and his commitment to liberate the Iraqi people and end Saddam's weapons of mass destruction program by achieving regime change in Iraq spring from a single source: His determination to defend the American people. That happens as well to be his constitutional responsibility, and he will fulfill that duty once again on Iraq if his due regard for the "opinion of mankind" on the ABM issue -- consultations, but no veto -- as the model for dealing with the UN about changing Saddam's regime.