Tuesday, December 17, 2002

The Not So Great Debate

I suppose it’s not entirely fair to match up the intellects of George Will and Mike Farrell in the debate over US intervention in Iraq. It’s the equivalent of matching up the acting talents of Robert DeNiro and ... well, Mike Farrell. But as Mr. Farrell seems to be the most prominent proponent of inaction and appeasement, I’m really left with no choice in the matter.

First George Will, drawing on the lessons of the weapons inspection regime in Germany following World War I.

A 1944 study of the problems of post-World War I disarmament of Germany stressed the impossibility of disarmament-by-inspectors when the government to be disarmed is uncooperative. After 1918 the inspectors' greatest difficulty was procuring reliable data because the German government connived at concealment. This difficulty "could have been surmounted only by a complete and prolonged military occupation."

In 1919, Andre Tardieu, a French diplomat charged with implementing the inspections, had written to Colonel House, President Woodrow Wilson's adviser, anticipating reactions to whatever the inspectors reported. He said the "pacifist element" in many nations would "be quite naturally inclined to deny reports disturbing to their peace of mind." So they would "more or less consciously espouse the cause of the German government, which will deny the said reports." He added:

"Germany will deny. The governments will discuss. Public opinion will be divided, alarmed, nervous, and finally, the League unarmed will have brought to pass in the world not general peace but general uncertainty ..."

And following that, of course, an illegally remilitarized, belligerent nation seeking to visit destruction on its neighbors and its former overseers.

Now, in perhaps his greatest role, Mike Farrell as a generic pacifist element from 1919, desperately trying to hold onto his peace of mind. (As interviewed on December 10 on CNN by Connie Chung):

CHUNG: Mike Farrell, in the letter, you call the talk of war in Washington alarming and unnecessary. But this isn't a tea party. Won't you concede that Saddam Hussein needs tough talk in order to comply with the U.N. requirements?

FARRELL: Connie, I think that the United Nations inspectors found 95 percent of Saddam Hussein's weapons in the era between 1991 and 1998. There's no reason to believe that these inspectors can't do...

CHUNG: How do you know that?

FARRELL: The inspectors themselves have said so, found and dismantled and/or destroyed. And the inspectors unilaterally said so. And that was not disputed by anyone.

CHUNG: And what about now, though? How do you know...

FARRELL: What about now? What we are finding now is that inspectors are going in with a tougher mandate than they had before, with the absolute support of the Security Council. And they are getting the cooperation of the Iraqis.

So, my question is: What is the value of the administration's undercutting the job of the inspectors by picking at it, by criticizing them, by continuing to criticize the Iraqi government, when what we see so far is cooperation? What we see so far is the inspectors being able to do their jobs.

What we ought to be doing at this point, it seems to me, or what the administration ought to be doing is taking yes for an answer and ratcheting down rather than ratcheting up the drums of war.

With George Will’s permission, I’d like to jump in on this intellectual beat down. (I’m accepting his silence to my offer as his enthusiastic approval and his heartfelt thanks for my able assistance).

How does Mike Farrell know that 95% of Saddam Hussein’s weapons were found by inspectors in the period of 1991 to 1998? Why, because the inspectors themselves say so! “Unilaterally so” according to Mike Farrell (?!) I guess if I believed that the UN was employing omniscient beings as inspectors, I might have as much blind faith as Farrell does. But since I gave up my childish illusions years ago (and with it my peace of mind), a few questions arise.

Isn’t it only possible for the party hiding the weapons to be aware of what the total amount of their weapons is? Therefore aren’t the Iraqis - not the inspectors - the only ones who can possibly know what percentage of their toxic chemicals, virulent bacteria cultures, and fissile nuclear material were found and what percentage remain hidden? Second, if the Iraqis are so cooperative, as Farrell suggests, why were only 95% of these items found? Since they apparently are eager to help us, why aren’t they offering 100% compliance? Finally, even if the 95% estimate is correct, what percentage of a cache of illegal weapons of mass destruction should be allowed to stay hidden? Is it OK for Iraq to keep 5% of its anthrax spores, canisters of mustard gas, and suitcase nukes? Is that what you feel is fair, Mike Farrell? Will that make you feel safe, Mike Farrell? (Note - once you’ve disdainfully italicized a man’s name, there’s really nothing more to say.)

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