A Formula for Inevitable Escalation

September 17, 2006

During the build up to the Iraq war the Bush administration used the tactic of making demands which would appear to be diplomatic but that always seemed to lead to increased tension and increase the probability of war. On one occasion, for example, in a press conference two weeks before the war, Bush said of Saddam Hussein, words to the effect, “let him bring his weapons of mass destruction out into the parking lot and show us that he does not have them.” Hussein could not do that. He could not bring nothing into the parking lot. Bush had therefore made an apparent call for a peaceful solution but one that was certain to fail. The result was to make war all the more inevitable.

This formula for escalation was followed throughout the year preceding the invasion and with each “diplomatic” move, whether it was to go to the United Nations or to request of Saddam his records of destroyed nuclear weapons, records which were then rejected as being too many, each move increased tension and the justification for war.

Now, in the build up to confrontation with Iran, the president is doing the same thing. He is making demands that, again, cannot be satisfied and which, while they appear to be diplomatic, are actually a formula for escalation toward military action. Thus he said to the Iranians in July , the United States will engage in diplomatic talks with you if you will give up your right to uranium enrichment. Since, however, Iran has the right, under international law and under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, Mr. Bush was making a demand to which Iranians surely could not agree. Knuckling under such an ultimatum would have caused the president of Iran to impliedly admit an intention to build illegal nuclear weapons. Politically, there was no way the president of Iran could do that.

Mr. Bush then gave the Iranians “weeks, not months” to think about it. That is, he gave them a time table based upon his own domestic needs, (an upcoming election for which an on-going war could be quite useful), rather than upon any change of conditions in Iran. Predictably, by the end of August the Iranians had rejected the requirement to give up a right to which they were entitled under the law, and the stage was set for further escalation. It all seemed to be going according to plan.

But this time there is a difference. The Europeans now recognize that they have seen this before. In his attempts to bring others on board in support of his plans for sanctions, Mr. Bush and Secretary Rice have met increasing resistance from the Europeans and the Russians and Chinese.

Mr. Bush’s request for UN sanctions was the predictable next step, just as he had done prior to announcing his intention to invade Iraq. Increasingly, however, Europeans in general, and Russians and Chinese in particular, seem not to trust the American president. Mr. Bush’s requests for diplomatic measures seem predictably to end up in war. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blew the whistle when he said last week: “We cannot support ultimatums that lead everyone to a dead end and cause escalation, the logic of which always leads to the use of force.” He nailed it, and the Bush formula, cold.

Even though, that is, Russia had previously joined the other permanent members of the Security Council in setting the deadline for Iran to comply with the UN Resolution, Mr. Lavrov now stepped back. He left in doubt whether Russia would ever agree to any penalties. He, and apparently other Europeans, have recognized the “diplomatic” formula for inevitable escalation, and they are resisting. This is the best, most sane, news in some time. Persons who do not wish to go to war with Iran should rejoice.