By PATRICK E. TYLER
(New York Times,
February 17, 2003)
ASHINGTON, Feb. 16 — The fracturing of the Western alliance over Iraq and the huge antiwar demonstrations around the world this weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.
In his campaign to disarm Iraq, by war if necessary, President Bush appears to be eyeball to eyeball with a tenacious new adversary: millions of people who flooded the streets of New York and dozens of other world cities to say they are against war based on the evidence at hand.
Mr. Bush's advisers are telling him to ignore them and forge ahead, as are some leading pro-war Republicans. Senator John McCain, for one, said today that it was "foolish" for people to protest on behalf of the Iraqi people, because the Iraqis live under Saddam Hussein "and they will be far, far better off when they are liberated from his brutal, incredibly oppressive rule."
That may be true, but it fails to answer the question that France, Germany and other members of the Security Council have posed: What is the urgent rationale for war now if there is a chance that continued inspections under military pressure might accomplish the disarmament of Iraq peacefully?
The fresh outpouring of antiwar sentiment may not be enough to dissuade Mr. Bush or his advisers from their resolute preparations for war. But the sheer number of protesters offers a potent message that any rush to war may have political consequences for nations that support Mr. Bush's march into the Tigris and Euphrates valleys.
This may have been the reason that foreign ministers for 22 Arab nations, meeting in Cairo today, called on all Arab countries to "refrain from offering any kind of assistance or facilities for any military action that leads to the threat of Iraq's security, safety and territorial integrity."
War, like politics, is affected by psychology and momentum. The strong surge in momentum the Bush administration felt after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's Feb. 5 presentation to the Security Council on the case for war has been undermined by at least four converging negatives.
The most obvious is the rupture in relations between Mr. Bush and some of his principal partners in Europe: France and Germany, now joined by Russia, China and a growing list of other countries. Just weeks ago, it seemed that Mr. Bush was successfully coaxing France and Germany into the war camp, especially after one of the chief United Nations weapons inspectors, Hans Blix, delivered a negative report on Jan. 27 on Iraqi compliance.
But the swell of popular opposition to war across Europe, the second negative, plus the corrosive effects of the hawkish jibes that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others have hurled across the Atlantic, have only roiled the waters further. Washington discovered just how deeply Western unity had been sundered when it asked for defensive NATO deployments to Turkey to protect that front-line state from Iraqi intimidation — a request that brought opposition and contentious debate that were resolved today.
The Security Council meeting on Friday that was to be the penultimate step in laying the groundwork for war, instead produced two significant negatives. Giving his latest report, Mr. Blix indicated that the inspectors were making noteworthy progress in forcing Iraq to make concessions on everything from allied surveillance flights to giving inspectors greater access to Iraqi weapons scientists. Mr. Blix said Iraq was still not cooperating like a state that truly wanted to disarm, but there had been progress, he said.
The implication was that Mr. Blix saw the virtue of taking more time, though he did not specifically ask for it. But neither was he ready to tell the Security Council that inspections had failed as a tool for disarmament.
In another negative, Mr. Powell's performance on Friday appeared to fall short of public expectations that he would demonstrate that the threat posed by Iraq under Mr. Hussein was so imminent that the only logical response was war as soon as possible.
Mr. Powell promised new intelligence on connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda, but then did not provide it, at least within public view. And he did not respond to Mr. Blix when the arms inspector challenged one point of the American intelligence briefing of Feb. 5.
Mr. Blix pointed out that the satellite images Mr. Powell brought before the Council were shot two weeks apart and did not necessarily show Iraqi deception. A chemical decontamination truck is present in one photo and not the other. "Routine" movements were also a possible explanation, Mr. Blix pointed out, and Mr. Powell nodded.
Though Mr. Powell was nimble as ever in his extemporaneous remarks, the one thing that his presentation did not provide the Security Council was an answer to the question that hung over the body: Why war now?
To the rest of the world, it might have seemed necessary that Washington provide an answer, if only to respond to the argument of the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin. He placed an alternative logic before the Security Council: Could anyone argue that immediate war would be shorter and more effective in disarming Iraq than continued United Nations inspections under the threat of force?
It didn't help Mr. Bush or Mr. Powell that the French said their intelligence agencies found no support for the American claim of a strong connection between Baghdad and Osama bin Laden's terrorism network. It also did not help that Mr. Powell's appearance on Friday came just days after Prime Minister Tony Blair's latest intelligence white paper was found to have been plagiarized from Internet sources.
As if to defy the deteriorating support for immediate war, Mr. Bush's advisers warned against playing "into Saddam Hussein's hands," as Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, said on Fox News Sunday this morning.
But the more senior members of Mr. Bush's team, especially Mr. Powell, live in the shadow of Vietnam, where their careers began and out of which they brought a determination not to take the country into war without strong public support. Given Mr. Hussein's record, the actions of Iraq over the next few weeks could conceivably resurrect that support and reverse the negative psychology and loss of momentum that the Bush administration suffered this week.
For the moment, an exceptional phenomenon has appeared on the streets of world cities. It may not be as profound as the people's revolutions across Eastern Europe in 1989 or in Europe's class struggles of 1848, but politicians and leaders are unlikely to ignore it. The Arab states' declaration in Cairo seems proof of that.