Thursday, July 11, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell.
Photo: Minds at War-Amed Tarzi (left), who will testify before Congress this week, and Tim McCarthy (right) a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, confront a perilous world from their offices at the Monterey Institute for International Studies.
On Sept. 11, Amin Tarzi, a respected expert on the Middle East, arrived for work at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) dressed entirely in black, a brooding figure wearing a worried expression. In the months since, he has doggedly gathered information, published papers, penned editorials and traveled to international conferences in an effort to understand-and avert-what appears to be a slide toward disaster.
As the US marches down the warpath to the borders of Iraq, Tarzi''s apprehensions mount. The current crisis in the Arab world seems to weigh on him like a personal burden. At worst, he envisions that upheaval there will lead to nuclear deployment by the U.S., whose citizens won''t tolerate American casualties. The scenario has him convinced the Bush administration''s reported plans for a unilateral invasion are wrongheaded and dangerous.
"I don''t like to see war as the first solution," he says.
Tarzi speaks rapidly, with a clipped accent. Born in Afghanistan, he fled the Soviet invasion with his family at the age of 14 and came to New York. He joined the Marines several years after graduating high school. He''s now a senior research associate at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, a think tank within MIIS that investigates the global arms race, particularly in the former Soviet Union and the Far East.
Tarzi meets regularly with officials and academics from Arab nations and Israel, exploring common ground and examining diplomatic options. Two weeks ago he returned from meetings in Europe with representatives from Iran, Israel, Palestine and many of Iraq''s neighbors to discuss the Palestinian issue and, with less success, Iraq.
This week he travels to Washington, D.C. to brief members of Congress on Iran''s missile program, then flies again to Europe-he cannot say where-for another confab with policy experts from the Middle East and Gulf states. He wonders if this time they will be willing to take on the subject of Saddam Hussein.
"Most [Arab] countries right now are reluctant to talk about Iraq, even though some may-may-help us," he says. "A lot of them don''t see Iraq as a threat, believe it or not."
Tarzi does. The familiar litany of crimes, including the use of nerve agents on the Kurds, leads him to label Saddam Hussein the "worst leader" in the region. But Tarzi worries that in solving one problem, the US will create more difficulty for itself.
Increasingly, Tarzi says, the US is making a grave mistake by acting unilaterally, without regard to the wishes of the United Nations Security Council much less the rest of the international community. A solo invasion of Iraq would not only violate international law and wreak havoc, it would harm America''s standing with the rest of the world, he says. He believes it also would do injury to fundamental American principles.
Tarzi is concerned with the question at the heart of the matter-whether Saddam Hussein poses enough of a threat to America or any other country to warrant a massive, unprovoked military strike. Several of his colleagues at MIIS are confronting the same question, and there is some disagreement among them.
Bill Monning, a professor of negotiation at MIIS and a trainer at the Institute for International Mediation and Conflict Resolution, concurs with Tarzi''s assessment of the Iraqi leader, to a point. Monning has the relaxed, sympathetic bearing that one of his professional tribe might be expected to possess. Citing a grim story about a murdered Iraqi progressive whom he used to know, Monning concedes that Saddam is "brutal" and "a thug." But he suggests that Iraq is less of a threat to the US than is Al Qaeda.
The question, he says, is "how much the Bush administration is playing on that fear to initiate action that may not have our security as a cornerstone."
One of the underpinnings of the Bush administration''s argument for the overthrow of Hussein''s regime is Iraq''s suspected arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, which could theoretically threaten the United States either directly or indirectly through sale to terrorists. But the truth is that no one knows exactly what Iraq''s nuclear, biological and chemical capabilities are.
Tim McCarthy knows better than most. McCarthy, who now works as a senior analyst at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in an office next door to Tarzi, served on the United Nations'' Special Commission (UNSCOM) weapons inspection team in Iraq from 1993 to 1998, monitoring industrial sites and high-security palaces suspected of manufacturing chemical and biological weapons.
A stocky, youthful redhead with the friendly air of a high school football player, McCarthy estimates that between the Gulf War and the inspections process, Iraq''s weapons program was decimated.
"Let''s say, just for example, that there were 10 tons of mustard gas," he says. "We''re confident we destroyed 9 and a half tons of that. So all but the last 5 percent."
But since UNSCOM''s expulsion in 1998 amid charges of CIA infiltration, speculation has replaced information in discussions of Iraq''s current arms supply. And Iraq''s comportment during the last round of arms inspections-officials were notoriously uncooperative and secretive to the point of outright deception-left people unwilling to assume anything when it comes to Iraq and apocalyptic weapons.
"[Hussein] invests more in weapons of mass destruction than any other country besides the US and Russia," says McCarthy. "Just for nuclear it''s $10-$15 billion a year. We don''t know how much he''s spending on the rest."
McCarthy believes Hussein may very well have rebuilt his arsenal.
But Scott Ritter, who worked as the chief inspector of UNSCOM and later wrote a book criticizing US interference with the inspection team''s work, insists that Hussein''s capacity for devastation is a myth. Ritter told a Salon reporter in March that "qualitatively, Iraq is no longer capable of producing these prohibited goods-their factories, production equipment and the weapons themselves were largely eliminated."
Tarzi is not convinced: "Do they have weapons of mass destruction? I wouldn''t take any chances on it. Saddam has a very, very bad track record."
Yet Tarzi balks at the Bush administration''s overthrow plan, whether it involves direct US military action or support of an Iraqi opposition.
Some of his reasons are practical. He dismisses the Iraqi National Congress-the most likely candidate for US sponsorship in a coup-as a "hodgepodge" that "won''t work." And he predicts disaster should the US strike alone and too soon.
"We cannot go into Iraq today," he warns. "The reaction will be not against us alone. It will be against our allies. There will be mass revolution in the Persian Gulf states."
Besides these pragmatic considerations, Tarzi worries about maintaining the integrity of international law. Far better than invading Iraq, he says, is forcing the issue of renewed weapons inspections by the United Nations. Such a strategy could help salve resentment over the perceived American inclination to arrogantly act alone.
"Do we have the right to remove Saddam?" he asks. "I think no. So I think we can push him to accept weapons inspections. He''ll say no. And then we have the backing of the UN. Otherwise it''s the bully just getting its way."
Monning agrees. He points to the UN charter, which prohibits member nations from attacking one another.
"What right does a foreign power have to take out a leader, no matter how despicable?" he asks. "When do you violate international law? Who has vested the US with the power to determine what leaders can and cannot exist?"
The argument that toppling Saddam Hussein is a self-defensive maneuver, Monning says, invites deadly logic.
"We have more weapons of mass destruction than any other nation in the world," he says. "Does that mean anyone can unilaterally attack the US because we may use those weapons against them? If you use that justification, then every other nation in the world could use that logic."
Monning recites a laundry list of recent US decisions to withdraw from international agreements: the Kyoto protocol to limit global warming, the nuclear test ban treaty, the nuclear nonproliferation agreement, and most recently the international criminal court. All those decisions, Monning says, broadcast the message that America, sole superpower, does not have to play well with others. "To many," he says, "the US looks like a rogue state."
Last Friday, July 5, Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri and UN secretary general Kofi Annan ended two days of fruitless talks in Vienna about a renewed inspections process. Iraq refuses to allow a UN team into its borders until the United Nations lifts sanctions, and the UN refuses to lift sanctions until Iraq readmits arms inspectors.
The impasse gives credence to McCarthy''s assertion that this latest meeting, the third since March, is part of "a diplomatic dance" with no genuine intent behind it.
McCarthy, who is deeply skeptical of the pressing-for-weapons-inspection strategy, thinks a new inspection effort would be frustrated by the same cat-and-mouse games with Iraqi officials that plagued the first.
"I didn''t agree with it before, but I do now-the Iraqis will never submit to weapons inspection in good faith," he says.
That is not the point, says Monning.
"People say you can''t trust Saddam," he says. "The issue in negotiations isn''t trust. If someone violates the terms, then you build in consequences. The core of the agreement isn''t trust, it''s verifiable conduct."
After Vienna, both sides agreed to meet again to discuss inspections. Meanwhile, a leaked Central Command document suggests that an immense US military buildup could be taking place this summer-even as Kofi Annan struggles to convince Iraqi heads of state that the UN only wants to look at weapons laboratories and that the US won''t be running the operation.
McCarthy, for one, takes the position that the current buildup and crisis is but another tactic to dull Iraqi preparedness. He points out that since December 1998''s Operation Desert Fox (the three-day airstrike that Clinton-haters dubbed a "Wag the Dog" tactic), tensions have peaked and relaxed several times. Each time the pressure build up, the Iraqis make preparations-evacuate buildings, mount roadblocks, put their soldiers on alert. When nothing happens, he says, "it wears down their readiness, and every time it costs.
"There''s going to be several more of these before anything more happens," he predicts. "But the objective is not weapons inspection. They want him gone.
"They''re sitting on the pulse of the world economy. It''s easy on one hand to dismiss: increase the price of petroleum-who cares? But you''re talking about wealth creation, and we have found that wealth creation leads to higher education, lower crime In my view we have to look at this in a little more sophisticated way. We can''t just toss off this argument, ''Oh, it''s all about oil.'' Yes, it is about oil."
And it''s about other things, too: protecting US citizens from further attack, safeguarding the rules of civilization that govern the global community, even preserving the principle of democracy from corrosion by respecting it in its international iteration-the UN.
"This is a philosophical problem," says Tarzi. "It goes beyond Iraq. In WWII, people saw the US flag and they thought, ''Oh yes, this is it.'' But if we continue to oppose democratic structures when we are a democracy, people will fear us-but they won''t respect us."