Ultimatum time

Posted: Jan 03, 2002 12:00 AM
We speak, with some justification, of yesterday's war with Afghanistan. There are disruptive days ahead, without question, but the military enterprise is over. And the whole of the sentient world hangs on, asking: What next?

Why anything next? Because, of course, when President Bush formulated the national purpose in response to the New York/Pentagon attacks, he said it whole: We will chase down the aggressors and their network, and those governments that give shelter to them are governments with which we will contend. Later, the president focused direct attention on the government of Iraq. He said that the attempted development in Iraq of ultimate weaponry (atomic, bacteriological, chemical) was not something we could safely assume had been arrested by the United Nations commission that was permitted intermittent searches after the Gulf War. What he did not go on to say is what now keenly needs to be said, namely, Here is what the United States is going to do about it.

It's worth reflecting on very recent history, featuring the same country and the same leader. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, President Bush maneuvered to get the U.N. Security Council to vote a resolution to the effect that Iraq should retreat from its aggression. In November of 1990, President Bush did two things. He urged that the U.N. set a deadline (Jan. 15, 1991) for Iraq's removing its army; and, at home, he ordered the Defense Department to double, from the initial 200,000, the number of U.S. troops mobilized to enforce the U.N. resolution.

At the time, George Ball, who had served as undersecretary of state for Kennedy and Johnson, declared that the president had gone from a resolution to an ultimatum, and that ultimatums historically served as preludes to war. Moreover, he said (Mr. Ball was very assertive in manner), "ultimatums are a decidedly 'non-Arab' procedure. The Arab peoples do not like irrevocable decisions that may lead to violence. There is an old Middle Eastern saying that if an Arab should ever cross the Rubicon, he would pick up the Rubicon and take it so that he could cross and recross it, as events evolved."

Well, as events evolved, we did go to war, we won it with minimum casualties, and now, 11 years later, we need a new ultimatum.

The formulation of it requires that we demand what the morally intelligent public worldwide would understand -- complete, unfettered access to Iraqi laboratories. But also, the ultimatum must specify that Saddam Hussein be removed from any cockpit from which he could give military or political directions that would obstruct our purpose. In short, the ultimatum should require Saddam Hussein to remove himself from office.

To where? That is a matter of detail. In this space a few weeks ago, St. Helena loomed as an appropriate cloister. And arrangements could reasonably provide for aides of whatever reasonable size he wished, excluding only access by them to electronic communications.

Now ultimatums should be believable. The ultimatum to Hitler in 1939 that he leave Poland alone or face war from Great Britain and France did not protect Poland, but the threat was carried out; war was declared. If it is (roughly) correct that our bombing resources have increased by a 1,000-to-1 since using them against Hitler, they have, incredibly, increased by a factor of 10-to-1 since first using them against Saddam Hussein. What this means is that whatever Hussein's distribution within Iraq of his inventory of weapons, we can in quick time immobilize Baghdad, and the work of an invading army would be rapid and decisive. Two days after we began to act on our ultimatum, Saddam Hussein would be dreaming of the pastoral delights of St. Helena.

The ultimatum is the honorable means to proceed on our agenda. Few Americans question the historic mandate of our country at this critical point in the evolution of organized violence. This is this generation's Manhattan Project. Al-Qaida has got to be demolished, and the civilized way to go about it is to give the enemy a reasonable alternative. Via ultimatum.

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