- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

The message delivered by President Bush on Monday night to Iraq could not have been clearer. "Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing." That two-day window of opportunity closes this evening, and barring a last-minute miraculous change of mind from the Iraqi dictator, we are poised for war. No one desires war. But if it has to be, let us get on with it.
Mr. Bush's style has never been popular with those who favor diplomatic niceties and reality in shades of gray. His black-vs.-white view of the world causes endless discomfort in Europe, where people pride themselves on appreciating the complexity of it all. Europeans and many anti-war groups here, who have a good deal in common, were appalled at being told "you are either with us or against us" in the war against the terrorists. They cringe when Mr. Bush talks about "evil," even when evil is plainly in evidence as in Saddam's gassing and torture of Iraq's Kurdish population, which happened 15 years ago last weekend.
Among those who have cringed is Secretary of State Colin Powell, who came into office as the Bush administration's resident dove. It was based on Mr. Powell's diplomacy that Mr. Bush last fall was persuaded to go to the U.N. Security Council for approval. It looked like a good idea at the time, and it was hailed as a triumph when Mr. Powell pulled off a unanimous vote for Security Council Resolution 1441 in November. The decision has turned out, however, to be a diplomatic disaster.
Where did Mr. Powell go wrong? It could well be argued that investing the United Nations with this kind of power was a mistake; indeed, very few military actions have ever received the U.N. stamp of approval. That is in a sense a philosophical question.
Politically, it could certainly be argued that Mr. Powell was hopelessly naive in his dealings with the French on the Security Council. According to a front-page story in the New York Times on Monday, Mr. Powell told French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin back in November that, as regards U.N. resolutions on Iraq, "Be sure about one thing. Don't vote for the first, unless you are prepared to vote for the second." This Mr. de Villepin promised, so officials present told the New York Times.
Guess what? The French foreign minister didn't mean it after all. As diplomacy unraveled in February and March, the French government's desire to protect French commercial interests in Iraq and to maximize its international influence vis-a-vis the United States took precedent. (And yet, in the last minute, France is now hinting that in the case of a biological and chemical attack from Iraq, it might change its mind again.)
Those who have at one time or another been allied with France will know how Mr. Powell must be feeling right now. As former Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh once told me about the Franco-Soviet relationship, "The French! They will lead you down the garden path. And then they will drop you at the end."
President Bush's speech Monday night made clear that diplomacy on Iraq is dead for now. That is a good thing. Absolutely nothing has been gained by dragging this negotiation out. Military action has been delayed; U.S. alliances have frayed badly; friendly governments have found themselves facing a storm of public protest at home.
One benefit, though, and a significant one it must be said, is that Mr. Bush has U.S. public opinion on his side. According to the most recent CNN-USA Today-Gallup eight out of 10 Americans support a U.S. invasion if the U.N. passed a resolution; 54 percent would support it if the resolution did not pass. A clear majority feels Mr. Bush has exhausted all diplomatic options.
Mr. Bush made clear how seriously he takes the threat from Saddam and from the nexus between terrorists and rogue states.
"The cause of peace now requires all free nations to recognize new and undeniable realities. In the 20th century, some chose to appease murderous dictators whose threats were allowed to grow into genocide and global war. In this century, when evil men plot chemical, biological and nuclear terror, a policy of appeasement could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on earth."
This president is a straight shooter, who means what he says unlike certain other politicians. So, if Saddam knows what is good for him, he'd get out of town. May one suggest exile in Paris?

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