"Smoldering Gun" Means Inspections are an Effective Alternative to War
by Joel Federman
SAN FRANCISCO, January 17, 2003--The discovery by UN weapons inspectors in Iraq of some empty chemical weapons warheads has been described by a Bush Administration official as a "smoldering gun." This label is meant to provide a justification for moving us closer to war with Iraq.
The Administration's logic turns the purpose of the weapons inspection process on its head. The purpose of the weapons inspections program in Iraq is to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction (for details, see below). If the program is effective, it would accomplish the very goal that the Bush Administration claims would be the primary reason for going to war against Iraq.
An alternative interpretation of the "smoldering gun" warhead finding would read as follows: what the discovery of these weapons proves is that inspections work, and that we should continue with more inspections and destruction of the weapons found in such inspections. We can't trust the Iraqi government, so we need intrusive and continuing inspections and destruction of all weapons found.
It seems that the choices we are being given by the Administration regarding the inspections are:
(1) If the inspections find a "smoldering gun" (or a series of them), then the Iraqi government will have been proven to be lying to the UN about its weapons of mass destruction, so we need to go to war.
(2) If the inspectors find nothing, then the inspectors must have been fooled, since the US government knows there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So, inspections don't work, and therefore we need to go to war.
In other words, the Bush Administration is not suggesting any possible avenue that does not result in war.
It is twisted logic to make the success of inspections (finding and destroying weapons) a justification for war. Instead, it should be the justification for not going to war, because we are accomplishing the fundamental objective of such a war through better, nonviolent means.
(To read the full text of the UN Inspections Resolution, click here.)
It's the Inspections, Stupid:
A Memo to Fellow Peace Activists
(For those too young to remember, when Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992, a sign was posted in his campaign office that said, "It's the economy, stupid!" It was a reminder to keep focused on the central issue of the moment. The title of this essay is a play on that idea.)
SAN FRANCISCO, October 16, 2002--Congress has now made itself irrelevant to the war debate by authorizing the president to "use the armed forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate" against Iraq. The only remaining check against the power of the president resides in the people themselves.
For those who are working to galvanize the American people to prevent the impending war, what is the best strategy? First, let's admit that war is highly likely, that the Bush Administration if afflicted with what former Secretary of State Madeline Albright aptly called an "irrational exuberance" for the war option, and is hell-bent with getting on with it. Second, let's accept that there is very little time to avert the war: forward positioning of the military has already begun. There is therefore an urgent need for a coherent, focused effort to stave off war.
Reframe the Debate
On the face of it, public opinion polls show that the American people are, by a wide margin, for a war against Iraq. But, public support for military intervention is "soft." The public supports the war option for one reason: fear of another September 11, magnified by weapons of mass destruction. The public's fear--and it is a legitimate one--is that someone will blow up a nuclear bomb in a major American city, possibly their own.
However, the American public is not primarily interested in Iraqi regime change per se. Americans, by and large, simply want the threat of their own annihilation removed. If that goal can be accomplished by other means than war, they would be just as happy. When polled last week by CBS and the New York Times, 63 percent of Americans said they favor "giving UN inspectors more time," as opposed to "taking military action soon;" the latter option was favored by only 30 percent. Americans want a particular problem--the threat of WMD terrorism--solved. If inspections will solve the problem, they will be satisfied with that.
That is why those working to avert war need to focus like a laser on the issue of inspections. There are many valid reasons that can be cited against war with Iraq--that unprovoked war is against international law, that tens of thousands of people will likely die, that the region will be destabilized, that it will incite further terror attacks against the United States. But, those reasons fail to address the central motivation behind public support for war--fear of a WMD terrorist attack. Only one argument meets that test, which is that inspections are a substitute for war that will accomplish the same goal. Those against the war need to reframe the debate. If the debate is seen as between war versus no war, war wins. If the debate is between war versus inspections, inspections have a chance.
The Case for Inspections
Inspections are to our time what the nuclear weapons freeze was to the U.S.-Soviet arms race: a simple, practical solution to a terribly dangerous threat. In the 1980s, the American public supported the Reagan arms buildup until the peace movement put forward the idea of the freeze. The freeze idea showed a way out, aroused millions to action, and was a linchpin in the process of reversing the arms race and ending the Cold War. A similar approach is needed now.
The case for inspections needs to be made clearly. The word "inspections" sounds misleadingly toothless. But, the purpose of inspections, according to the relevant United Nations resolutions, is to facilitate the destruction of weapons of mass destruction. Security Council Resolution 687 (1991) requires that UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspectors carry out the "destruction, removal or rendering harmless" of "(a)ll chemical and biological weapons, all stocks of agents, all related subsystems and components, all research, development, support and manufacturing facilities, (as well as) (a)ll ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres." According to former UNSCOM chief weapons inspector Scott Ritter, implementation of the inspection regime during the 1990s eliminated the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction threat at that time (see Scott Ritter, "Is Iraq a True Threat to the US?" Boston Globe, July 20, 2002).
Even President Bush, inadvertently, has admitted that inspections have been effective. In his October 7 speech to the nation, the president said that prior to the Gulf War--like today--we didn't know the extent of Iraq's nuclear capability. However, once the inspections program began, we determined the extent of that capability--and dismantled it. Without inspections, according to Mr. Bush, Iraq would likely have had nuclear weapons by 1993; with inspections, Iraq's nuclear potential was so degraded that it still does not have that ability nearly ten years later. In other words, inspections work. The logical deduction from these facts is that if an effective weapons inspection-destruction program can be reestablished in Iraq, war is unnecessary. If inspections worked once, they can work again.
Keeping the Option Open
But, for inspections to succeed, they must be given an opportunity to succeed. At each stage of the debate, the public needs to let the Bush Administration know that it is being held to account as to whether it is pursuing the inspections option seriously. The Administration must be challenged each time it attempts to set the process up for failure with unnecessary and provocative demands, impatience with negotiations, and hair-trigger decision-making strategies.
For example, the Bush Administration has been insisting that UN inspectors be accompanied by non-inspectors from Security Council permanent member nations (read: the United States). It has also lobbied the Security Council to authorize force in the same resolution that sets forth its new inspections regime. These are prime examples of an approach that pre-figures failure of the inspections option. The first demand is unnecessary, insults the UN inspections process, and is needlessly provocative toward Iraq.
The latter stratagem seeks to remove all vestiges of public deliberative process if or when the time comes for a decision about whether to go to war. If the Security Council acquiesces and pre-authorizes force, as Congress has now done, it will mean that the hawks in the White House--not Congress, not the American people, not the Security Council--will decide when the attempt at inspections has failed, and they will act before the rationality of such a decision can be challenged. Advocates of peace need to concentrate their limited resources on responding to the Administration as it moves forward with such proposals on a day-to-day basis.
If activists want to give peace a chance, they have to make inspections the focus of their efforts. The drive to stop the war can succeed only if the debate is reframed in a way that that the peaceful alternative also satisfies the need of the American people for security. Doing so will help move the majority of the American public to actively seek that which they already want: an alternative to war that accomplishes the same end. Inspections are that alternative.