Saddam’s concessions will
never be enough for the US

Unless it can engineer
a war, Bush’s administration is political roadkill

Simon Tisdall

Wednesday September 18,

The Guardian

To the “man in the street”,
on whose support Tony Blair and George Bush ultimately depend, it looks
like a fair enough offer. For months the US has been huffing and puffing,
mouthing and mithering, making waves over Iraq, demanding that it do what
Washington wants. Now, finally, it has received a simple answer: yes. So
what does the US do? Ask for more.

    It is
worth recalling how this pseudo-epiphany was reached. The build-up began
in earnest with Bush’s “axis of evil” speech in January; then came his
doctrine of “pre-emptive attack” (what security adviser Condoleezza Rice
sweetly calls “anticipatory defence”). Then a startled world learned that
“rogue states” holding weapons of mass destruction were more or less on
the team with Osama and al-Qaida. That, it transpired, made them legitimate
targets for America’s “war on terror” and “regime change”.

week, Bush turned his screw yet more fiercely. If Iraq truly wished peace,
he hectored, it must not only agree to full, certified disarmament under
UN auspices (and on US terms). It must also swiftly honour all the numerous
obligations laid upon it after the Gulf war.

    But Iraq’s
weapons remained the principal focus. Some chemical and biological capability
is still most likely at Saddam Hussein’s disposal, according to the final
reports of the UN inspectors in 1998. He may since have developed more.
Scarier still, hawks squawk, Iraq may be only three years, or three months,
or who knows, three weeks away from acquiring a nuclear weapon. An image
was conjured of the Baghdad bazaar. “Pop round next Tuesday Mr Saddam.
Your package will be waiting.”

angst with all this blethering did Bush and his cohorts inspire. Such discomfiture
and war-feverish unease did they spread among European allies such as Blair
and his party followers. What strains and stresses stole like shadows of
the night over the deserts of the Middle East as Arab allies and foes alike
contemplated a coming US onslaught. How greatly did they clamour and cringe,
to the delight of the Cheneys and Rumsfelds, Wolfowitzs and Perles. One
by one, slinking Saudis followed chapeau-chomping French into the American

    And then,
after all this hot and bother fuss, suddenly and out of the blue, even
before General Tommy Franks, the wannabe “Stormin’ Norman”, has unpacked
his Qatar camp bed, Iraq simply says “OK”. To all these provocations, Baghdad
puts a timely stopper.

    Nor is
there any doubting the popularity of Saddam’s shift, enough to make the
White House sick. Security council members declare themselves encouraged.
Russia looks forward to a political settlement and an end to threats of
war. China discerns a positive sign. Backsliding Germany’s Joschka Fischer
rubs it in with a told-you-so about the efficacy of the UN-centred, multilateral
approach. Even in London, predictions fly suggesting that war, if it comes,
has now been put back a year, that Bush and Blair are split over how to
proceed, and that Downing Street will be blamed by US hardliners for steering
their president up a diplomatic blind alley. Some Muslim countries, meanwhile,
demand a lifting of sanctions.

still, the no-strings nature of Iraq’s riposte has plain-spoken appeal.
And to the “man in the street”, increasingly bowed, browbeaten and bamboozled
by the government’s line (as polls show) but now relieved and hopeful,
it seems reasonable. After all, what more do these people want?

a lot, actually, and the Bushmen’s demands will increase rather than diminish
as yesterday’s momentary flummoxing fades. The gap between what America
might wisely do, and what it really does, may yet grow schismatically chasmatic.

    The US
has a “moral obligation”, says sensible Liberal Democrat Menzies Campbell,
to take the Iraqi offer seriously and explore it fully. Will it do so?
The initially scornful and dismissive response can be expected to harden
in the days ahead into a firm line insisting the threat has not diminished
one whit, that Iraq will be judged by actions, not words, and that merely
“tactical” manoeuvres of this sort have been seen before.

    Far from
welcoming Iraq’s prima facie compliance with weapons inspections resolutions,
the coming US emphasis will be on the several other “materially breached”
UN decrees. And whatever Moscow says, the dogged pursuit of a new resolution
authorising a yet tougher line will continue apace.

    Far from
facilitating the inspections process, quickly agreeing a timetable and
fixing an end point, as Iraq has previously asked, the stress now will
be on anywhere, anytime coercion, intrusion, paramilitary enforcement,
and re-extraction of inspectors at the first glimmer of obstruction. The
public message will be scepticism, that anything worth finding has already
been hidden, that “cheat and retreat” is Iraq’s game, and that the military
option may still be the only option.

    To this
end, despite yesterday’s developments, the military build-up will continue,
the ships and tanks, planes and carriers so vital to America’s sense of
self-worth will edge towards Iraq, the tone-deaf Rumsfeld’s Pentagon will
bang on at what Syria calls the drums of war and deathly ominous B52s,
like so many unChristian soldiers marching as to war, will once more silence
the hedgerows of Gloucestershire. Expect US pretexts for escalation, fake
and insincere negotiations, and false horizons.

    For Saddam,
with every concession, the bar will be raised ever higher. Almost whatever
he says or does, the gun will remain at his head, the trigger ever cocked
for the commencement of a battle which Bush et al will not be denied. Despite
a broad international consensus against it, regime change and nothing less
will remain the ultimate objective.

    And why,
the “man in the street” might ask, do they appear so set on violence? Because
Bush’s misconceived, over-hyped global “war on terror” has run out of targets
and is far from won. Because Iraq is oil-rich (the second biggest reserves)
and the Saudis grow unreliable. Because, purely in domestic policy terms,
especially post-Enron, this government is political roadkill. Because the
administration’s predominant, evangelical clique believes it is solo superpower
America’s historic mission (Bush says it is a “calling”) to spread its
universal values and rescue a muddled world from itself. Because the Bush
family has old scores to settle and new elections to win. Because Bush
lacks the insight and imagination to act differently. Because in their
September 11 pain and unforgotten anger, not nearly enough of America’s
“men in the street”, and in high places too, are prepared to say stop,
pause, and consider what it is they do.

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About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2023: I publish an email newsletter called LANDLINE = https://jaybabcock.substack.com Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca.