Administration Faces “Tough Negotiating” Over Second Iraq Vote, Feinstein Says

Administration Faces “Tough Negotiating” Over Second Iraq Vote, Feinstein Says

February 19, 2003 3:48 pm (EST)

To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.

Lee Feinstein, the director for security affairs at the Council on Foreign Relations, says the Bush administration will have to put “all of its energy” behind an effort to win approval of a second United Nations Security Council resolution demanding Iraqi disarmament. The resolution, he says, must set firm deadlines and establish clearly defined benchmarks against which to measure Iraqi compliance.

The former deputy director of Policy Planning for the State Department, Feinstein also says that “most people are not buying” the administration’s case linking Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

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Feinstein spoke in an interview with Bernard Gwertzman, consulting editor for, on February 17, 2003.

Other Interviews

What’s your analysis of last week’s Security Council meeting and the weekend’s worldwide anti-war protests? It seems that the United States was on the losing side.

Yes. The administration lost a lot of ground in the course of the last few days. It thought it had choreographed phase two of the effort to marshal international support for war against Saddam Hussein well, but it has not panned out that way. The first phase started on September 12, when President Bush went to the United Nations. The second phase started with President Bush’s [January 28] State of the Union speech, followed up by Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation on February 5 to the Security Council and the Valentine’s Day reports of Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief arms inspectors. Basically, the administration had the field to itself for a long period of time. It failed to appreciate, however, that proponents of delay were rallying supporters and developing their own coordinated strategy to block or slow down the Americans.

What’s the flaw in the United States’ position?

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The problem the administration is facing now is that the burden is on them to show that Iraq’s noncompliance is sufficient to justify war. The French have the easier case. Their policy is simply, “non.” And it is a lot easier to say “no” than it is to make the case for doing something. What the administration needs to be doing is shifting the burden onto those who are asking for more time.

I’ve always thought the administration’s toughest problem was to answer the question, “why now?”

That is the toughest problem, although I think it can be addressed a lot better. The argument the administration needs to make now is that the time for debating the pros and cons of a containment strategy for Iraq is over. That argument was decided on November 8, when the Security Council voted unanimously to approve Resolution 1441, [which said that] if Saddam doesn’t disarm, he will face “serious consequences.” The issue is whether the Security Council will enforce its decision. It is essentially an argument about the meaning of international law today. If the edicts of the Security Council, which has the authority to make international law, are to mean anything, now or in the future, then the council needs to enforce its decisions.

The argument of the French, Germans, and others is that weapons inspectors should have more time than the United States seems to want to give them. Would you be in favor of ending this argument with a firm deadline?

Exactly. I think the next step is to set a firm date, which is the strategy the first President Bush used in the Security Council before attacking Iraq in 1991. Of course, what’s different now is that measuring Iraqi compliance is harder this time. Back then, either Iraq withdrew its troops from Kuwait in 1991, or it didn’t. It is much harder to measure non-compliance on disarmament. So, the next resolution has to have a specific deadline and measurable benchmarks very specifically written in.

That seems to be what the administration is contemplating, a resolution that combines specific benchmarks and a compliance deadline.

Yes and no. I was surprised that the administration signaled as early as it did, prior to the Security Council meeting on February 14, that it supported a second resolution. I would have thought the administration would have waited on how that meeting went before doing that. That said, I think the administration is still equivocal about a second resolution. They say they want it, but the effort so far seems half-hearted.

It seems the administration was pushed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Yes. Administration officials did it because Blair wanted them to do it. But then having made that decision, they didn’t have their ducks in a row and didn’t have a clear strategy. All they did was say, “We support this.” They didn’t say what they supported. They didn’t put people on notice on how they were going to take the next step. The significance of what happened on September 12 was that Bush gave a speech [at the United Nations] and said he would be going to the Security Council [to press for Iraqi disarmament]. The same was true when Bush gave his State of the Union speech and announced the date when Powell would go to the Council with a presentation. This time around there was no such follow-up. That left an opening for others.

What will the French attitude be? They have proposed another meeting on March 14. Is that a good target date?

If the administration is going to be successful in getting a second resolution, it will have to put all of its energy behind it. It can’t leave the British holding the bag. This has to be a major effort. That’s the first point. Second, it took more than two months to get [resolution] 1441 [approved]. Clearly, there isn’t that much time now. You want to get a resolution reasonably quickly, and you want the deadline to be reasonably short. It will be difficult to have a resolution negotiated with a deadline set for mid-March at this late date.

What would be your timing?

I think you want a resolution as quickly as you can get it, and a deadline as early as you can get it. But it will be very, very tough negotiating in the next two weeks.

What about the option of a “coalition of the willing,” going to war with like-minded countries without a resolution?

The administration’s strategy has been “my way or the highway;” “we’re doing this whether or not you support us.” That worked to get 1441 passed. But there are only so many times that you can go to the well before that kind of argument stops working. The “coalition of the willing” is an option. There are a number of countries which are prepared to go along, but the ability to carry out this war effectively and to handle the occupation and the post-war reconstruction, without broad support, is really affected if you don’t have the cover of a Security Council resolution.

Will the costs of reconstruction be immense?

They will be immense and the administration has yet to put forward any realistic budget number, not to mention the fact that the war itself isn’t envisaged in the budget the president has presented. The humanitarian problem presents itself immediately. As soon as troops go into Iraq, there will be tens of thousands— if not more— Iraqis under more-or-less American control, and we’re going to have to take care of these people immediately.

I gather the non-government organizations (NGOs) have not been informed yet of plans.

The Pentagon has set up a humanitarian assistance effort, which is interesting and unusual because normally these things are coordinated by the State Department. Pentagon officials will tell you quite openly that this effort is late, not well-organized, and not nearly as far along as it needs to be. The people who are expert at this are trying to get the NGOs involved. The NGOs in some ways are playing the same game that NATO has, which is they are not prepared to mobilize until there is further U.N. support for a war, and so, in some ways, some of the humanitarian NGOs are themselves to blame for the delay.

What do you make of the administration argument linking Saddam and al-Qaeda?

There is a real split between Blair and Bush on this, and that contributes to public skepticism. I think Blair has the better argument: If you don’t address the danger posed by terrorists and rogue nations with weapons of mass destruction sooner rather than later, the threat posed by them will be joined. There may not be hard evidence of this at this time, but it is inevitable that they will join, and the world being what it is, and the dangers being what they are after 9/11, we can’t just wait.

That is a strong argument and I think if you come clean about the fact that the link now may not yet be cemented, you can make that argument. Unfortunately, the administration has just tried to put out random bits of information about the connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda in the hopes that that will indicate the realities of that connection, and most people are not buying.

What does the Iraq crisis mean for U.S. foreign policy?

It is a very interesting time in terms of how the international system is changing. What you are finding is that the United States over the course of many years, including in the Clinton administration, of which I was a part, had a policy of pursuing multilateral options when possible, but reserving the right to go it alone, if necessary. What’s happening now, I would argue, isn’t so much that the Bush administration is more unilateral than the Clinton administration. The Bush team is more unilateral in rhetoric than reality. What’s happening now is that this U.S. strategy doesn’t work as well as it used to, because others are demanding more of a say.


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