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Bush, Allies Give Diplomacy 24 More Hours (Post, March 17)
Council on Foreign Relations
Confronting Iraq Special Report
Confronting Iraq Discussion Transcripts
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Confronting Iraq:

With Charles A. Kupchan
Senior Fellow,
Council on Foreign Relations

Monday, March 17, 2003; 11 a.m. ET

President Bush met on Sunday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in what was billed as a "last-ditch" summit with regard to Iraq. "Tomorrow [March 17] is the day that we will determine whether or not diplomacy can work," Bush told reporters. Officials said only two likely options remained, both of which would end up activating the U.S. war plan. The first is to submit the resolution to a U.N. Security Council vote it is certain to lose and then proceed to war. The second, more likely option is to withdraw the resolution introduced late last month and claim existing international legal authority to attack without new U.N. authorization.

Charles A. Kupchan, senior fellow and director of Europe Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, was online Monday, March 17 at 11 a.m. ET, to discuss the role of international diplomacy in the U.S. push to war with Iraq and the repercussions of mounting a war without full U.N. cooperation.

Kupchan is an associate professor of international relations at Georgetown University. He was director for European affairs at the National Security Council under President Clinton (1993-1994). Recently, Kupchan has written op-ed pieces for Newsday (Iraq Isn't Worth Losing U.S. Allies, March 3) and The Los Angeles Times (Uneasy Allies, Feb. 17).

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

washingtonpost.com: Thank you for joining us today. Things are moving quickly. Sunday's Azores summit -- described as Bush's last attempt at diplomacy -- gave Saddam Hussein 24 hours to leave Iraq. This morning, the abandonment of U.N. efforts to achieve peace in Iraq have cleared the way for a U.S.-led attack on Iraq without Security Council approval. Mr. Kupchan, at this point, is there any possible venue for diplomatic efforts?

Charles A. Kupchan: I think the diplomatic game has ground to halt. AT 10 a.m., the U.S. announced it would not seek a vote on a 2nd resolution and has instructed the UN to pull its personnel from Iraq. That basically means the end of diplomacy.

Minneapolis, Minn.: Is there any chance that Putin or another high profile leader can come up with a plan outside of the Security Council framework that would be sufficient to sway Blair? Under such circumstances, would the U.S. hold off on launching an attack?

Charles A. Kupchan: I think its too late for any third party to defuse the standoff. And at this point, the U.S. side and the Franco-German-Russian coalition appear to be ready to dig in their heels and accept the consequences of a parting of the ways.

Cumberland, Md.: You are a big advocate of diplomacy -- but with the French opposed to an ultimatum or anything that would result in force wasn't diplomacy doomed to failure? Wasn't the French desire ultimately to let Saddam off the hook,after all they have vetoed and abstained from any resolution in the past which called for any harsh actions against Saddam?

Charles A. Kupchan: I think that to some extent, the standoff was fore-ordained because the U.S. went to the Security Council to garner a blessing for war. Most European countries went to the council to avoid war and continue to believe that an Iraq that is flooded with weapons inspectors can not do much harm and therefore, they believe that an unlimited inspections regime should be an adequate response to the crisis.

washingtonpost.com: Sec. of State Powell, the chief U.S. diplomat, this morning said the window for diplomacy with Iraq is closing and the moment of truth has arrived. Do you agree with him?

Charles A. Kupchan: I agree with him only because the U.S. has made the decision to close to the window and is unwilling to accept the continued weapons inspections program. I have little doubt in my mind that the PResident has made a decision to go to war within probably the next few days.

Cumberland, Md.: Do you think the Azores summit was a good idea?

Charles A. Kupchan: I think the Azores summit was probably an attempt to give some political cover to Blair and Aznar. It was not a meaningful diplomatic gathering in the sense that none of the countries representing the opposing view were present. This was not a last gasp for diplomacy, it was more of a PR event to prepare for war.

Washington, D.C.: Prof. Kupchan,
Why hasn't Bush convinced more people that this war is necessary? It seems this administration made pretty plain that they didn't need any allies. Since diplomacy requires logical explanations to make your case, Bush would rather just give lip service. Sure makes me appreciate his father's diplomatic skills.

Charles A. Kupchan: I think part of the reason has to do with the relatively strong support for war in the U.S. Had the poll numbers showed more skepticism, Bush probably would have been forced to rely on more frequent and robust arguments. The American public opinion is more easily convinced than European, largely because of 9/11. And we are continuing to exist on a regimen of fear. So when Bush mentions WMD and 9/11, he buys support for an attack on Saddam, even if he never succeeds in establishing a more convincing link between Saddam Hussein and terrorism against the U.S.

Arlington, Va.: On Powell -- do old generals make good diplomats?

Charles A. Kupchan: Not necessarily. I would say that the military officer that makes a good diplomat is the exception. That's because in military organizations there is a hierarchy and an established chain of command, whereas diplomacy is much more about nuance, negotiating skill and therefore requires a different skill set.

My sense is that Powell was ordered, probably by the President himself, to bring the diplomatic game to a close and get on board with the more hardline instincts of the rest of the cabinet. Under those circumstances, basically follow his commander.

Washington, D.C.: President Bush said yesterday he will work with the United Nations and "push as quickly as possible for an Iraqi interim authority." Will the conflicts among the Security Council nations complicate the UN's role in postwar Iraq?

Charles A. Kupchan: Unquestionably, yes. In the eyes of most members of the UN, the U.S. will have acted against the will of the Security Council. The resulting ill will will make it hard for the U.S. to then turn to the U.N. to fulfill postwar tasks. The UN will ultimately engage in Iraq because that's part of its mandate, but I think the atmosphere will be tense and potentially uncooperative for quite some time to come.

Annandale, Va.: I have a couple of questions.

First, why is Iraq still a member of the UN? This doesn't make sense to me. Second, and also something that escapes my understanding, how can a small coalition of states led by the U.S. and Britain claim any legitimacy under the auspices of the UN when their actions have been explicitly refuted by the UN as a whole (even if the rejection is a result of a veto by a single state holding that power)?

PM Blair said they have the responsibility to enforce the UN resolutions against Iraq, but it seems to me that only the UN can have this responsibility. Either we believe in the UN or we don't, but maybe the fact that Iraq is still a member gives legitimacy to actions taken without the blessing of the UN.

Charles A. Kupchan: To my knowledge, countries are not denied membership in the UN based upon their behavior. Which is why Iraq is still present in the body. The U.S. is looking to base its actions against Iraq on resolution 1441. And I believe that probably can make a compelling legal case that 1441 and prior resolutions provide a legal foundation for war.

The problem is that a war that may well be legal will be widely seen as illegitimate because it is taking place against the express will of the Security Council and the court of world opinion. In as much as the Security Council was structured to ensure a consensus among permanent members, this action does undermine the credibility of the UN.

Washington, D.C.: As I understand it, we are about to invade Iraq without UN approval to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1441. When will we invade Israel and the Palestinian Territories to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1435?

Charles A. Kupchan: That gets to the heart of the subjective nature of the action that is being taken against Iraq, and will reinforce the sense among many that the U.S. is acting according to double standards. I think the case for invading Iraq is much stronger than the case for taking any action against Israel, which is a democratic country surrounded by hostile neighbors.

Minneapolis, Minn.: Bush has given Hussein the leave or be attacked ultimatum. Is there any reason to believe that Hussein would vacate Iraq?

Charles A. Kupchan: I think the chances of his willful exile are quite low. He seems prepared to go down with the ship, and in that sense this war will probably not end without American forces invading Baghdad.

Santa Barbara, Calif.: Mr. Kupchan:
I see an Iraq war as being short, but the management of Iraqi and nearby populations as being long, frustrating, and dangerous.
What say you?

Charles A. Kupchan: I agree completely. And I fear that the U.S. is getting in way over it's head. The Bush administration continues to insist that the toppling of Saddam Hussein will have positive spill-over effects throughout the Middle East. It has yet, however, to make any compelling case for exactly how this liberation of the forces is to take place. My own bet is that the war will do more to radicalize the region than to tame it.

Cumberland, Md.: Do you honestly still believe that France is our ally?

Charles A. Kupchan: I think that the French position is partly motivated by a desire to stand up to the U.S. and tame a country that it believes has become too unilateralist and bellicose. But part of the difference stems from a sincere disagreement about the need for war and its likely consequences. The French and many European countries with them believe that the war will have adverse consequences for the Middle East, for the war on terrorism, for the broader international order. The Bush administration never really engaged these arguments, it simply portrayed the French as spoilers.

washingtonpost.com: Compare the diplomatic efforts of the first and second Bush administrations.

Charles A. Kupchan: There has been a stark difference between the diplomacy of George W. Bush and his father. In preparation for Gulf War I, Bush and his top advisers worked tirelessly to build a broad and stable coalition.

In contrast, the current administration has spent much less time working the phones, travelling and negotiating to meet the concerns of allies.

This stems in part from a fundamental philosophical difference. Father Bush belonged to the centrist wing of the Republican party. It believed in centrist allies and institutions. George W. Bush comes from a very different wing of the party that is much more hostile to international institutions and dismissive of allies. This administration is more comfortable basing its approach to the world on U.S. preeminence.

Arlington, Va.: Did the diplomatic efforts during the Clinton administration contribute to the situation the Bush administration faces today?

Charles A. Kupchan: During the Clinton administration the sanctions against Iraq became more porous and in the late 1990s, the inspections regime came to an end. This is in part because other countries were not willing to tightly enforce the sanctions regime. In that sense, the Bush administration is dealing with the consequences of an Iraq that was not sufficiently contained during the course of the 1990s and early in this decade.

Munich, Germany: Mr. Kupchan, I have read your March 3 opinion piece and it strikes me that you raise many points of concern and criticism with foreign policy of the Bush administration. What I miss, however, is an appreciation of the more narrow national and European interests of France and Germany (e.g. aggrandizement in the face of an expanding EU) that have led to impolitic and divisive positions, particularly on the side of France. In other words, the current situation is not entirely America's fault.

Charles A. Kupchan: I would agree with that. And I think that the rift across the Atlantic has been enflamed by the irresponsible behavior of European leaders as well as American leaders. I also think that the crisis over Iraq is bringing to the surface deeper tensions in trans-Atlantic relations stemming from Europe's desire for increased autonomy from the U.S. and for greater clout on the international landscape.

Training Room, Fairfax, Va.: An underlying issue regarding the UN is a way to resolve deep disputes among the 5 permanent members of the security council. Since each has veto power, doesn't this episode show that countries who feel blocked (like the US) must then interpret UN resolutions on their own? In essence, aren't real world problems too complex for the poor psuedo-legislative decision making process the UN currently employs?

Charles A. Kupchan: The structure of the Security COuncil has its roots in the concert of Europe which preserved peace in Europe from 1815 till the 1850s. The key goal was preserving harmony among Europe's great powers. Even though no formal veto existed, they all agreed to act only in concert with each other. The Security Council seeks to preserve harmony by banning action in the absence of agreement.

What we're witnessing today is an action by the U.S. that contravenes that power to make harmony and that's why the war on IRaq represents an enormous gamble. The U.S. is likely to succeed in its efforts to topple Hussein, but may well find it's relations with France, Germany, Russia and China irreparably damaged. Perhaps more importantly, the U.S. may find its legitimacy in the eyes of the world has been dealt an irreparable blow.

Arlington, Va.: Now that Bush has shown that he'll have the war he wants, what can the U.S. do (besides turn out Bush in '04) to improve the strained relations with its Trans-Atlantic Allies? What about its Trans-Pacific ones, particularly if we decide to focus our attentions on N. Korea in the post-Iraq period? And what about the future role of the UN and the Security Council?

Sorry for the multiple questions.

Charles A. Kupchan: The Bush administration will hopefully learn that its behavior is undermining America's key partnerships around the world. To recognize this one would hope there would exercise more restraint in their diplomatic contacts, seek to alleviate concerns that America is no longer a team player and invest resources in repairing key alliances. Even so, I think that we are past the point of no return. And that the Atlantic Alliance -- the anchor of international politics since 1945 -- is probably coming apart for good. In that sense, the era that opened with Pearl Harbor -- the era of America's reign as the trusted leader of the free world may be in it's waning days.

We are also witnessing a profound strain in America's relationship with South Korea. The election of a new president who ran on a platform calling for more independence from Washington makes clear that even in Northeast Asia, the political landscape is changing dramatically.

New York, N.Y.: Does the Bush adminstration's performance in a "post-Taliban" Afghanistan gives us any reason to believe that the Administration can follow through on its stated long-term commitment to rebuilding Iraq?

Charles A. Kupchan: I'm skeptical about the Bush administration's objectives of building a stable, democratic Iraq. That stems in part from the conditions inside Iraq, which are anything but conducive to stability or democracy. Furthermore, I think Bush's core political constituency in the American heartland will not be supportive of a long-term American occupation of the country. In that sense, the parties hostility toward peace-keeping missions will make it hard for Bush to maintain a sizeable presence in Iraq over the many years required to preserve stability there.

Canada: As we enter an era in which the United States has taken upon itself the right to launch preemptive military action against nations if and when it chooses to do so -- what is to prevent other nations from adopting the same policy? This is a recipe for international anarchy. What if Pakistan were to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against India? Please comment about this as the world confronts a super-power who has adopted a policy of "our way or the highway" in its reaction to the rest of the world.

Charles A. Kupchan: The U.S. certainly is setting a dangerous precedent in launching a war without broader international support. IT is doing so partly because of its overweening military strength, and the sense that it can get away with preemptive action. It is worth keeping in mind that President Bush is right that in an era of terrorism and WMD, preemptive war may on occasion be necessary, but that road is extremely dangerous because of the precedent being set and that is precisely why preemptive action needs to be endorsed through the appropriate international machinery before it takes place.

If Iraq posed an immediate and imminent threat to American security, I believe Bush's actions could be justified. At least to my mind, he has not made an effective case that an immediate threat exists.

Amman, Jordan: If America withdraws the resolution and then proceeds to wage war against Iraq that would mean that:

1. America abides with U.N. resolutions only when such resolutions serve American interests?
2. All talk about international legitimacy and rule of international law is just talk to to be ignored and discarded when America does not like what it hears?
3. Any nation that can "get away with it" is invited to do so?
4. That it is still the law of the jungle that rules the acts of the powerful?

Charles A. Kupchan: Those are all important and valid points. Again were a particular dangerous threat to exist, one could justify extreme action. But because the international community does not perceive that threat, America's actions are likely to have precisely the effects that you describe.

Brookline, Mass.: UN weapons inspectors are in Iraq, doing UN work specified in Security Council resolutions.

What right or authority does the United States have to tell them to stop their work and leave, so that the bombing can begin? And what Security Council resolution calls for regime change?

Could the next resolution from the Security Council be directed at the U.S.?

Charles A. Kupchan: The United States is informing Kofi Annan to withdraw inspectors to ensure their safety. It has no legal right to insist on their withdrawal or the withdrawal of journalists or humanitarian agencies who choose to stay.

The question of whether the council could take action against the U.S. is very important and interesting. It would seem to me that in light of what is transpiring a resolution taking issue with America's behavior is by no means unthinkable. For political reasons my guess is that such action by the security council is unlikely to take place.

Charles A. Kupchan: I think that this is potentially a historical turning point and that it may well bring to an end the order that we've been living with, even if unconsciously since WWII. And in that sense, Americans and the rest of the world should be thinking hard about what the consequences of this war will be and what can be done to limit the damage done to partnerships with like-minded nations.

I'd like to mention my new book: "End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of 21st Century." (Knopf)

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