The Washington Times

On the question of war with Iraq, I think there are no more arguments to advance, pro or con. At this point, everything that is serious on either side of the question has been fully and competently aired. There will yet be a certain additional amount of nonsense coming out, but the serious cases are subject now only to restatement.

The debate has gone on in earnest since September 11, 2001. I wrote in a column here the week after the attack: “Already, one may ask: Can this war end in victory for us with Saddam Hussein still in power?” In the intervening period, not only the dailies and the weeklies and the monthlies but also the bimonthlies and quarterly journals, as well as the major New York publishing houses, have aired the subject at lengths ranging from 400 to 100,000 words or more. Add the Web sites, the blogs, talk radio and cable and network television, and never have so many had such comprehensive access to all sides of a question. Those who are agonizing undecided at this point are not suffering from a lack of fact or argument but from their own conclusion that the case is close.

Some have said that President Bush looked tired or bored at his low-energy news conference last week. Was that him or us? Mr. Bush offered numerous restatements of his positions and his reasons. Chances are, you have heard them before. And chances are that if you are against going to war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, nothing Mr. Bush can say will persuade you otherwise, and if you are for it, nothing the opponents say will change your mind.

I think Mr. Bush probably knows that. His tone during the news conference seemed pitched with the day after the war in mind. That’s the point at which the hard feelings and impulses to recrimination resulting from the acrimonious quality of the debate will have to be set aside. There has been plenty of this on all sides and at all levels, from the American and European “street” to the highest levels of government.

Yes, I laughed at the French jokes. But the idea that we should boycott their wines and cheese, proffered in some cases by otherwise sensible people in the heat of this moment, is way over the top. I didn’t buy Stolichnaya vodka during the Cold War, but I didn’t object when people did. And the French are hardly the Evil Empire. Mr. Bush’s effort to turn down the volume was surely aimed at what will surely be a subsequent effort to rebuild relations.

In the meantime, we each have the advantage of understanding each other’s position better [or rather, those who are not too furious to see straight do]. And it is indeed striking how differently the United States and France view the actions of the U.N. Security Council, for example.

We think that Security Council resolutions spell out the collective will of the body [for whatever that’s worth]. They are in this respect an end in themselves, and they spell out actions others must take to be in compliance with the articulated will of the council. The language of the resolution offers a standard by which the action of the party directed can be measured. Saddam Hussein is either in compliance, or he is not in compliance.

Now, if this is what you think a U.N. Security Council resolution is, then you clearly must think that Saddam, having failed to seize his “final opportunity” to disarm, is in further “material breach” and so should face “serious consequences.”

But there is another possible view, which I will call the French view even though that’s an oversimplification. In this view, a Security Council resolution states the position of the body. The purpose of doing so is to make clear to a troublemaker that things must change. Clearly, the troublemaker has a position, too, and one quite at odds with the Security Council. The question is what steps he will take in response to the resolution. The resolution is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Next, back in the council, is the question of whether the response is adequate.

In the first case, Resolution 1441 is an ultimatum to be complied with down to the last letter. In the second, it is a step in an ongoing negotiation to try to find a modus vivendi between the international community [as represented by the Security Council] and a known troublemaker. The answer here is: How dangerous can Saddam be with weapons inspectors able to go anywhere at any time?

Now, my answer to that is: still very dangerous, especially over time, as the experience of the 1990s indicates; pressure was steadily mounting to weaken the containment of Saddam. But that’s a separate matter from whether the Security Council is a more useful body in general if you take the American, as opposed to the French, view of its resolutions.

Now, that’s a conversation for after the war.