Li Weijian is the Director of Department of Middle East Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.
After listening to President Bush's address, I believe it will have alarmed many people in Europe. There is no love lost between Europe and the Iraqi regime, of course, but Europe is currently very sensitive to the perceived "unilateralist" trend in Washington. This word "unilateralist" has almost become a cliché, I admit, but I did note some instances of it from the speech. Mr. Bush, for example, said, "I have asked Congress to authorize the use of America's military, if it proves necessary, to enforce UN Security Council demands." This will horrify people in Europe. Unfortunately, it is horror from a rather hypocritical perspective. Many policymakers in Europe are perfectly happy for the United States to be the world's policeman, but not to allow the United States to determine (by itself, alone) what it wishes to police.
The strategy was wrong from the outset. "Regime change", in particular, was a mistaken phrase. When you've said it, there is not much else to say. Europe's current fears are multiplied when they hear President Bush or Vice-President Cheney or Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld saying the above types of things. Furthermore, they are not convinced when President Bush states that "Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq." Iraq is a problem, certainly, but it has so dominated the news throughout the summer, that people have almost forgotten about September 11 and the "war against terror"--as well as other potential crises waiting to explode.
My advice? Weapons inspections must be given one last chance to work--not with a deadline of a few weeks, but for the coming year. Imagine the reaction. If the Bush Administration gave the inspectors one last chance, the Western world (not to mention the rest of the world) would be stunned (in all the right ways). It would, also, then give the United States twelve months to engineer all the changes in not only the Middle East, but the wider region, that everyone agrees are necessary for the long-term stability of the area. Crucially, when the inspectors fail in their endeavors, as they will, the Western world (Europe in particular) would not be able to utter a word and then the United States would be able to build a mighty coalition. The winter of 2003 is one year too early for a clash with Iraq.
The United States must be prepared to deal with all of the possible outcomes of a conflict in Iraq, and this requires careful planning. This goes beyond what people have already anticipated--the risk of a complete loss of confidence among Arab peoples toward their rulers. Sooner or later, an Arab ruler will be assassinated (I term this the "Sadat effect"); is the United States prepared for the ramifications of popular unrest spilling out of control in Jordan, or Egypt, or even Saudi Arabia? The position of the "reformers" in Iran could be seriously undermined, allowing the more virulently anti-American conservatives to reconstitute their base and end all hopes for a rapprochement between Tehran and Washington. A war in Iraq could lead Turkey to invade northern Iraq to deal with the threat posed by a Kurdish parastate. With American attention diverted to Iraq, the specter of India and Pakistan going to war re-emerges. (The bloodletting has not stopped in Kashmir simply because media coverage is focused on Iraq.) There is also the prospect of Russian armed intervention in the south Caucasus. Substitute "Georgia" for "Iraq" in the text of Monday's address, and President Putin could have delivered it.
The United States is only making enemies at the moment. It has to withdraw now from this rhetoric, otherwise its diplomatic influence/bargaining power will disappear in a second (irrespective of military success in Iraq). Don't be flattered, in the coming days/weeks, by any support coming out of Moscow/Beijing, for they are laying a trap for you--for heaven's sake don't jump into it! What will Washington say when Russia calls for--and implements--"regime change" in Azerbaijan, not to mention Georgia, or China moves against Taiwan? The result would be international chaos, and decades of hard work would be blown away, just like dust.
We need more time.
Tim Potier is the executive director of the European Rim Policy and Investment Council (http://www.erpic.org).