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24.2.03

It looks like France and the UN are coming around to supporting the war. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that they're staking their hopes on Iraq dismantling its Al-Samoud missiles (which somewhat exceed the range of attack permitted by UN resolutions). The French say dismantling the missiles will prove that inspections are working. Kofi Annan said "I am confident they will destroy the weapons."

However, there is little chance that Iraq will disarm. Saddam may make a strategic concession on the Al-Samouds, since they've become so high-profile as to possibly unite the rest of the world against him, but deeper disarmament will run into walls. It's that very ability to unite the world that the French and UN are counting on. By stating a clear demand, peacenik governments will be able to transition to warmongers by saying that they gave inspections a chance. This is the kind of out that they need, so that they aren't completely marginalized in the geopolitical order that emerges from the war.

John Quiggin says that if Iraq fails to disarm, that will prove that Saddam is irrational. But as I've argued before, it's entirely rational for him to hang on to all of the weapons he can, if he believes that war is inevitable. If the US will attack no matter what, it makes sense to be as well-armed as possible, so as to go down fighting. Disarmament's benefits are only in splitting the opposition (which are limited given that the US's hands aren't tied by the UN and the US would be contributing the vast bulk of the forces for the war anyway).

All this points to a different interpretation of Saddam's statements that he is encouraged by peace marches abroad. The usual argument is that by making the world look divided, they lead Saddam to see the threat of war as unserious. Thus he feels like he can get away with more defiance, confident that the conflict-ridden West won't punish him. But if Saddam is starting from a conviction that war is inevitable, the protests could have the opposite effect. By showing that anti-war sentiment runs deep, they could encourage him to think that there is a possibility of ending the current crisis without war. The more Saddam thinks there's a possibility of appeasing the US, the more likely he is to calculate that disarmament will secure that outcome.

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