They teach you at the war colleges and cognate places of learning that soldiers and diplomats of experience always need to prepare contingency plans. This is wonderfully validated by the Iraq situation. The mind ponders the responses the White House is assumed to have considered. As regards the United Nations, President Bush could have proceeded in several ways.
1. I wish to inform you, honorable members of the Security Council, that as president of the United States I am invoking that clause in the U.N. Charter that authorizes member states to act in their own defense. It is our judgment that the government of Iraq is complicit in a war of terror against the United States. Under the circumstances, you will see the United States responding according to its own lights.
Or: 2. The government of Iraq has defied 16 U.N. resolutions and it is the U.N.'s responsibility to specify what is to be done to enforce the word of the U.N. in Iraq.
Or: 3. We remind the Security Council of the continuing defiance of Iraq and hope that renewed demands on the government of Iraq will be more effective.
Most interesting, of course, is contingent planning for what has now happened. The U.N. has not "acted," but the diplomatic community was sufficiently roused by Mr. Bush's talk to acknowledge that something would need to be done. It was thought a fine diplomatic move by the president to approach the U.N. in the first place. His doing so suggested due process in pre-military moves leading to possible confrontation. What we do not know at this moment is what will happen if the U.N. temporizes.
Probably it will do so, because there are enough parties leaning against it, pressing this or that nuance in the gestating resolution. On Sunday the third most powerful economy in the world will rename as chancellor Mr. Schroeder, who has placed his bets on the likelihood that the world will turn away from any offensive marshaled by the U.S. He has said, just days before the national election, that he will not assist in any military venture against Iraq irrespective of what the U.N. does. Mr. Schroeder is one voice, at the far end of appeasement. But there are others, and some of them, like the Pope's, argue for non-military movement as a matter of principle.
What is the nature of an ultimatum that might be directed at Saddam Hussein? Two days after Schroeder's grandfather's generation marched into Poland, the government of Great Britain, as it had promised to do, simply declared war against Germany, even though it was all but incapable of counter-aggressive action until some years later.
But that pattern can't inform our own situation. Britain couldn't do very much to Germany in September 1939, save enunciate the war. We, by contrast, could eliminate Baghdad tomorrow.
But we don't want to do that, though we very much want to be left free to devise our own approaches with the implicit sanction of the U.N.. Question: What do we do if the Security Council votes to permit Iraq another 100, or 500, days to make good its offer to open up its secrets?
That is the contingency for which no preparation appears to have been made. All that we have done, in Washington, is to denounce Iraq's offer as one more installment in the ruses with which it has led us by the nose for ten years.
Now the formulation of the right answer here needs of course to take Congress into account. To date, Democratic leaders have made it plain that they will approve war-like action by the commander in chief. But a movement to suspend such action until Iraqi bona fides are once more tested can mount quickly. Democratic leaders can, without appearing disloyal, importune the president to give Hussein one more chance.
All of this adds up, in my own conjecture, to the likelihood of a very quick strike, of some kind or another. Decisive enough to make moot further diplomatic wrangling. But of limited military meaning, because we don't want to use our ultimate silencer.