OK... I know... the title of this particular piece simply has to be the most overused pun during the course of this whole Iraq situation. That being said, however, it is precisely where the diplomatic game that played itself out in the United Nations Security Council this past Friday (14 February) has placed the various players of that game!
Why are France and Germany being so recalcitrant? Why is Russia so willing to join them in extending the time UN inspectors will have to work in Iraq before force with, presumably, UN sanction can be used?
The first answer is that these three countries don't feel all that threatened by Iraq (and Saddam's government, knowing this, plays these three like the proverbial "fiddle"- in this case, unlike the legends surrounding the Roman Emperor Nero, playing while- say- New York or Washington might yet burn). Even if Iraq is capable of giving rather nefarious materials to Islamic extremist terrorists, it is not they who are seen as the closest ally to Israel and, thus, the lightning rod for Islamist wrath. After all, Paris, Berlin and Moscow were not the cities attacked back on 11 September 2001!
The second answer is that there is this feeling- among the leadership of France and Germany at least- that the United States is going to do what it feels it has to do anyway, regardless of world opinion (Russia comes into this second answer via its own attitude that there is little- if anything- that can be done about it anyway). This actually dovetails with the first answer in that, if Iraq turns out to be a threat to Europe and Russia, the U.S. will probably go ahead and take Saddam out due to America's own perception of Iraq being a threat to itself: in other words, in their assuming that the United States will soon be at war with Iraq no matter what the UN Security Council might decide, these recalcitrant countries can actually afford to be 14-carat wrong in their opposition to the U.S. (since Saddam would presumably be removed from power by force of American arms anyway). In addition, should the U.S. and whatever ends up constituting a "Coalition of the Willing" happen to get bogged down in Iraq- that is, should things go horribly wrong with such American military intervention, these three can then all say "We told you so!" and, thus, reap the benefit of international opinion on that score. It must be nice to so be able to have it both ways!!
These two answers to the questions I earlier posed are also tied into resentment felt by France and Germany- and, almost certainly, also by Russia- that the United States of America is, indeed, the sole Superpower, the lone survivor left standing pretty much intact after the Cold War. As yet (though the dynamics of Geopolitics being what they historically have been, it is only "as yet"), no effective check on American ability to project its military might in places and at times of its own choosing has emerged. France and Germany cannot, at this point, themselves be that check because they are tied to us (albeit France less so than Germany) through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization: the ongoing squabble about whether NATO should- as NATO- give military aid to fellow NATO member Turkey, clearly a possible target should the United States attack Iraq (on Turkey's border, after all-- though one wonders if Turkey might be even more concerned about Kurdish intentions along its southeast border in the wake of future American success in toppling Saddam's regime!) is a sure sign that France and Germany are moving to redefine NATO into being just such a check on the U.S. (in effect, attempting to turn the tables by using America's own membership in NATO against it ["well, YOU've signed this Treaty, too!"]).
The problem with this Franco-German strategy is that the newer members of NATO to their east do not, at least so far, seem to be as concerned with America's projection of military power as those NATO members geographically in the center. To the French and Germans, World War II and its concomitant oppression (which came to the French via foreign occupation, to the Germans via having their country turned into a police state) is not only a fading memory but, to many in those two countries, it is not even a memory but, rather, the stuff of History- of sepia-toned photographs in grandparents' scrapbooks and fading, heavily spliced newsreel footage used in television documentaries. France and what was then still West Germany were not at all bad off economically, as things turned out, during most of the Cold War and, to each of them, that standoff between the United States and the old Soviet Union was not what the war that had preceded the Cold War had been...
but not so the Poles, the Czechs, the Hungarians... the current leaders of these lands all came of age while their countries were still part of the Soviet "abroad"; they have not at all forgotten what that was like-- nor have they forgotten why, and which country they- to a large extent- have to thank for this, they can now be free to have become democratic societies. The French representative in the UN Security Council may, indeed, argue- as he did this past Friday (14 February)- that his country has not at all forgotten what American (and British) troops did to save France from Nazi tyranny nearly six decades previous but his words ring quite hollow in the ears of many Americans because the fact is that he himself doesn't- and can't- remember and, seemingly, speaks accordingly!
So the question that is still out there- in the battle over hearts and minds evinced by the anti-war protests taking place here in the United States and elsewhere all over the globe this very weekend- is over which view will be the consensus European (and, hence, international) one should the U.S. (as almost everyone expects) engage militarily in Iraq regardless of what the UN does or (as many also expect) doesn't do: the Franco-German(-Russian) view? or the Polish-Czech-Hungarian position? The reaction of participants and observers present in the UN Security Council on Friday as they (with the notable exception of those associated with America and Great Britain) broke into thunderous applause and cheering huzzahs after the French representative had finished speaking before that body does not seem to bode all that well for the latter... but, as any good Boston Red Sox fan will tell you a month or so into the Major League Baseball season: "Hey!-- it's early yet!!"
As for the Bush Administration, there are more than a few pitfalls here on the home front (regardless of the international diplomatic situation) as regards any final decision to attack Iraq:
First and foremost, there is the premise that- in order to successfully prosecute a war (as well as mitigate the side effects of having engaged in war), a Democracy had better have a supermajority of its voting citizenry in favor of its so doing (a contention I touched upon in my Commentary of 13 September 2002). War is the clearest case where "consent of the governed" is not- and, truth be told, cannot be- consent by a mere relative handful over 50 percent!
As I watched President Bush deliver his State of the Union Message on TV a few weeks back, I saw a Man of Two Speeches: there was the usual pablum served up in such a Presidential Address before Congress (this is what my Party got through Congress this past year that seems to be working well [take that all of you in the (varying degrees of loyalty) Opposition!] and this is what I yet want to get done [despite such opposition]) and then there was... The War Speech. Somehow this call to arms seemed most out of place and I began to realize that the President's words were more of the type that one would have expected to hear spoken before a Joint Session of Congress only when a President feels compelled to ask for a formal Declaration of War.
It appears to me that the whole process of the Bush Administration's gathering American consensus to go to war against Iraq has been most "bass-ackwards"! The President got the admittedly questionable equivalent of a Declaration (in the form of a Joint Congressional Resolution) back in October and- three months later- in January [!!!] he was now finally saying what a President should say in order to get such a Declaration? And, even so, we still don't have a clear supermajority in favor of such a war! (Yes, yes... most polls show that something akin to a supermajority of Americans want to go after Iraq-- but these numbers then become muddied when you factor in with how much, or little, outside support- UN-based or no- etc, etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam)
I still stand by my position, first stated in an earlier Commentary on this site dated last 8 September and then explained in greater detail in a follow-up Commentary dated this past 13 September, that the President would be much better served actually asking Congress for a formal Declaration of War. Of course, he won't... for there are far too many people in his Administration who, besides feeling it isn't necessary for him to do so in any event, don't want a formal Declaration because then we get into messy issues of various Conventions of War with names like "Geneva" and "the Hague" affixed to them and we then won't be able to treat combatants we might pick up in the course of battle the way we are treating the "detainees" (none dare call 'em prisoners!) we have at Guantanamo Bay, etc. etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam !!
Lest someone think this is a solely Republican ideology, let me here note that I was watching a relatively recent episode of the television drama, The West Wing- which has the White House and its staff as its focus, where Martin Sheen- playing President Bartlett (ostensibly a moderately liberal Democrat, one part Clinton [without the personal shenanigans]/two parts JFK)- was seen saying something to the effect of Declarations of War being old-fashioned. Since more than a few ex-Clinton Administration functionaries are consultants to this weekly program, I would have to presume that this view also well reflects at least a healthy chunk of the Democratic position!
Declarations of War old-fashioned?! Well, tell that to the Framers of the Constitution as they, each in their turn, roll in their respective graves!! Or was the first portion of Article I, Section 8, clause 11 of their drafted document repealed by Amendment while I was asleep last night?
But the Democrats were so hell-bent on getting the Resolution Authorizing Force against Iraq passed quickly last October so that it wouldn't at all interfere with the other, home-grown issues they wanted to emphasize in the course of the Midterm Election campaign and possibly detract from their Great Victory come this past 5 November... oh... wait a minute... that's right... they lost!... that they either forgot about such constitutional niceties as a formal Declaration of War or flat-out didn't much care.
So there is no internal pressure (that is, from within the political structure of the Federal Government itself) that can now well be brought to bear upon President Bush forcing him to seek such mandate as the Constitution ("that pesky thing"!) might, nevertheless, impose. This is precisely why all the pressure on the Bush Administration is now external (as in "the Streets").
No... instead, we'll all, sooner rather than later, see the beginning of the war against Iraq 'live' on CNN, FOX News Channel or MSNBC and then, a few hours later, the President, speaking from the Oval Office, will present us all with a fait accompli and soothing words (I can hear them even now: "Even as I am talking to you, the American People, Your Armed Forces- sworn to protect our liberties and freedoms- have already begun to engage the enemy...") that will have most of us, in our own hearts, already singing The Star Spangled Banner (or other 'National Anthem' of choice: conservatives will rather belt out God Bless America, liberals will prefer America the Beautiful). Given the likely scenario I have just painted, George W. Bush had better hope he, by then, has his supermajority of American opinion!...
but he also had better be prepared for the big political hurt put on him if things should, indeed, start to go wrong. A Congressional Declaration of War provision was placed into the Constitution specifically to make sure that the President's waging of war had the clear support of those who constitutionally represented 'We, the People' as much as the man in that High Office does: the fact that the Framers themselves, as well as those who would serve in the earliest Congresses of the United States, were not chosen via universal white manhood suffrage (and certainly not via today's universal suffrage- as women and those of color, regardless of gender, have- since the Jacksonian Revolution- gained the vote) makes no difference to what those long-ago Framers intended. A President who clearly has the People behind him via that very consensus Democracy alone can provide will be a much more effective Commander in Chief of the Nation's Armed Forces (especially in a military challenge to an anti-democratic despot such as Saddam Hussein). On the other hand, a President who cuts constitutional corners to get his troops into the fray of battle may well find himself- should "swimmingly" not be an adjective to be found in most descriptions of what is soon likely to happen in the Middle East- politically very lonely indeed!
But- alas- there seems to be just about as much hubris in the White House as there is in the United Nations Security Council these days!