October 28, 2002

'In Material Breach'


WASHINGTON -- If the U.N. Security Council fails to adopt a resolution holding Iraq "in material breach" of its many disarmament agreements, that refusal will have consequences for the U.N. and several of its member nations.

The State Department cannot say that, of course, because our diplomacy with Council members rests on persuasion, not threats. But should the U.N. deny the fact of Saddam's repeated and sustained defiance of its irresolute resolutions, the world body will henceforth play only in a little league of nations.

Every diplomat knows what "in material breach" means: as called for in the resolution put forward by the U.S. and Britain, that phrase clears the way for the liberation of Iraq. If Saddam does not promptly come into total compliance with no-nonsense inspections, we would have the useful, though not necessary, U.N. coloration for our overthrow of the outlaw regime.

Russia, France, China and Mexico lead the pack wanting to strip that triggering phrase from the declared U.S. position. If they succeed, their "no" votes would assert that Saddam is not in material breach of a dozen previous Security Council orders, which Baghdad would interpret as a legal triumph. It would also show that Colin Powell's faith in the U.N. system and his own persuasive powers has been grievously misplaced.

What would be the consequences of a victory by Saddam over the U.S. in the Security Council? If President Bush were to meekly accept the rebuff of a further watering-down of the U.S.-British resolution, his administration would become a laughingstock. Worse, the world would have no way to restrain nuclear blackmail.

That won't happen. Should Vladimir Putin and Jacques Chirac lead the Council down the path of appeasement, Bush will undertake the liberation of the Iraqi people with an ad hoc coalition of genuine allies. And here is one pundit's assessment of the likely consequences:

After our victory in the second gulf war, Britain would replace France as the chief European dealer in Iraqi oil and equipment. Syria, the Security Council member that has been the black-market conduit for Saddam's black gold, would be frozen out. The government of New Iraq, under the tutelage and initial control of the victorious coalition, and prosperous after shedding the burden of a huge army and corrupt Baath Party, would reimburse the U.S. and Britain for much of their costs in the war and transitional government out of future oil revenues and contracts.

If Turkey's powerful army on Iraq's border significantly shortens the war, its longtime claim to royalties from the Kirkuk oil fields would at last be honored. This would recompense the Turks for the decade of economic distress caused by the gulf wars, and be an incentive for them to patch up relations with pro-democracy Iraqi Kurds fighting Saddam at their side.

The evolving democratic government of New Iraq would repudiate the corrupt $8 billion "debt" that Russia claims was run up by Saddam. Even more troubling to Putin will be the heavy investment to be made by the U.S. and British companies that will sharply increase the drilling and refining capacity of the only nation whose oil reserves rival those of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

Rising production from a non-OPEC Iraq, matched by Saudi price cuts from princes desperate to hold market share, could well reduce world oil prices by a third. This would be a great boon to the poor in many developing nations, rejuvenate Japan and encourage prosperity worldwide, though it would temporarily impoverish Putin's Russia, now wholly dependent on oil revenues.

Such economic consequences to nations that help or hinder us in the U.N. this week do not compare to the human-rights benefits to millions of Iraqis liberated from oppression and to Arabs from Cairo to Gaza in dire need of an example of freedom.

That moral dimension of the need to overthrow Saddam is of no interest to ultrapragmatists in the Security Council. That is why our resolution holding him "in material breach" of U.N orders to stop building mass-murder weapons and encouraging world terror is bottomed on self-defense against a serial aggressor. But the Paris-Moscow-Beijing axis of greed whose commerce-driven politicians seek to prop up the doomed Saddam in the U.N. will find its policy highly unprofitable.

Copyright © 2002 New York Times


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