Late, but still not too late
Tony Blair's sudden decision to float a compromise resolution emphasizes his failure to fulfill the mediating role he seemed ready to assume months ago. Rather than drawing the two camps within the U.N. Security Council together in a serious effort to enforce inspections backed by military power, Blair and his foreign minister Jack Straw have been turned into instruments of the war faction in the White House. That wasn't supposed to happen after they succeeded in convincing Bush to act through the U.N. last fall.
If Blair now seeks nothing more than a brief interval before the missile strikes on Baghdad begin, the British prime minister will further ruin his already diminished credentials as an honest broker.
Is the Blair initiative designed merely to smother the latest request by Hans Blix for additional months of inspection? Yesterday, in a preview of his Friday report to the Security Council, the chief inspector said that the destruction of 34 al-Samoud missiles represents "real disarmament" and that the inspection process is almost "fully operational" at this point. He also noted that Iraq's arsenal is considerably smaller now than it was after the end of the Gulf War in 1991.
Colin Powell's response is to claim again that secret intelligence shows the Iraqis are still building missiles and hiding chemical and biological weapons. But his credibility, too, has been diminished since his presentation to the Security Council last month. (Worth reading in light of Powell's alarms about Iraq providing chemical and biological weapons to al-Qaida is this analysis posted by the antiwar conservatives at the Cato Institute.) Powell complains that Saddam Hussein is trying "to divide the international community, to split us into arguing factions." True, no doubt -- but the Iraqi dictator could never have achieved that objective without much assistance over the past two years from George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Powell himself. In today's Washington Post, Glenn Kessler examines the ruinous effect of the drive for war on American diplomacy: "The administration's isolation appears to be a product of a number of factors. These include its hard-edged rhetoric, and what many say is a growing distrust of the administration's motives and its failure to make a case that Iraq poses an imminent danger."
The hawk mantra of "too little, too late" will likewise apply to the Blair-Bush formula for another resolution -- unless Blair sets forth ideas that are honestly intended to allow inspections to work. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Canadian ambassador to the U.N. and others are promoting the idea of such a resolution -- with real "benchmarks," as Blix puts it -- that would set specific conditions for rapid Iraqi disarmament. Determined as the Bush administration is to start bombing, its wiser figures must decide whether they will spurn this "last chance" to restore the world's confidence in American leadership and purposes.
Whether you opposed or support the failed effort to break the Senate Democrats' Estrada filibuster, there's a George Will column that argues your position on constitutional grounds. Delving into the archives, author and former prosecutor Edward Lazarus dissects Will's hypocrisy in an excellent Findlaw essay that no fan of the pompous pundit should miss. (He credits Brad DeLong, Atrios and other bloggers who first caught this contradiction.)
[10:20 a.m. PST, Mar. 6, 2003]