- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

With a bellicose North Korea still a looming danger, President George W. Bush must soon make a decision on what to do about Iraq. His choices are war or wait. Both are fraught with risk and danger. If it is to be war as the last resort to disarm Iraq and Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the president must decide whether to attack relatively soon, before hot weather impedes operations or wait for U.N. inspections to finish the job and delay any decision on military action until the fall. And if war follows, now or later, the administration must plan for the peace, particularly installing an enduring regime able to govern Iraq under the rule of law.

Saddam Hussein, of course, has choices, too. He can stay in power and face the prospect of a war that would certainly end his rule and probably his life. Or, as has been suggested by the Bush administration and others, Saddam can voluntarily leave Iraq. Reportedly, a number of foreign leaders, including Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Bashir Assad of Syria, have urged Saddam to step down peacefully. While the likelihood of Saddam abdicating is slim at best, the administration surely has been thinking through that contingency, both in the context of war and a peaceful transition.

But suppose Saddam goes peacefully. What then? Would his leaving complicate or resolve the current impasse over Iraq and disarming it of its nasty weapons capability? Who would be the kingmaker and anoint or choose the new leadership? And who would be the guarantor that such a transition would ensure compliance with the U.N. resolutions that Iraq has so materially breached? The answers to these questions are relevant not only to Iraq. They also are helpful in defining a "new world order," something that eluded the president's father a decade ago, when Iraq had been beaten the first time and the Soviet Union collapsed.

After guaranteeing some measure of personal safety so he would not become an Arab Manuel Noriega later apprehended by the United States, Saddam no doubt would demand that he appoint his successor. His two sons, Uday and Qusay, are at least as bad as the father. Tariq Aziz or one of Saddam's other generals would be equally unacceptable to the United States, being rightly viewed as surrogate Saddams and probably as war criminals as well. However, if Saddam were to go, why would the Bush administration have the right to choose Iraq's new leader? This would be literally an occupation of a sovereign country without a war and through preemptive surrender.

Besides, do the Iraqi people have a right to choose their leader, and if so through what means? Or would the United Nations or some other body such as the Arab League be charged with that task? These are non-trivial questions, no matter how remote the prospect that Saddam will go of his own accord. But these questions point to some interesting conclusions for the Bush administration.

The Bush administration has an opportunity as well as a huge risk here. In fashioning a strategic framework to deal with the threats and dangers against the United States and its friends, particularly the war on terror and Osama bin Laden, Mr. Bush has operated largely on the basis of a coalition of the willing led by America. Reluctantly, he accepted going to the United Nations before resorting to war against Iraq. And some in his administration believe that decision was ill-advised, because it tied America's hands to a regime of inspections that could conceivably uncover little evidence of Iraq's WMD.

But Mr. Bush has three tools at his disposal. First, is an international coalition led by the U.N. and charged with enforcing its resolutions, broadly speaking, to impose the rule of law. Iraq is the test case.

Second, there are regional coalitions. NATO is the most obvious. For the only time in its history, NATO embraced Article 5, namely that an attack against one was an attack against all, and all member states joined the United States in the war on terror post-September 11th. In Asia the best means for dealing with North Korea is through regional powers South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.

Last, the United States can act unilaterally. This third tool should be reserved as a last resort or in cases where only the security of the United States is involved. By invoking such a framework, responsibility is nicely distributed and broader consensus is easier to achieve, meaning that successful and enduring solutions are more likely to follow.

Saddam almost certainly will not cooperate. But the possibility of his leaving does introduce the grounds for examining better tools for ensuring not only our safety but that of many other states and regions around the world.

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