With the suddenness of an earthquake in Mexico, the ground under George W. Bush's feet has heaved, cracked and shattered.
In his push for war in Iraq, Mr. Bush has at least pretended to attempt the formation of an international coalition to face the challenge. Such a gathering of support was necessary to paint a veneer of legitimacy over what is seen by many as a hasty and poorly justified advance towards battle. Bush grudgingly presented his case before the UN Security Council, shepherding the passage of Resolution 1441 through that body. British PM Tony Blair has been, since the summer, a totally dependable mouthpiece for the Bush administration. A deal with Turkey to ensure that the Iraqi Kurds do not form an independent state in the aftermath of war locked down a much-needed strategic jump-off point into the region. Back-channel support from Saudi Arabia was present and accounted for, despite nebulous public comments to the contrary.
And then the wheels came off.
The trouble began in earnest with the passage of UN Resolution 1441. The Bush administration crafted the resolution in a manner sure, they believed, to be refused by the Iraqi regime. Such a refusal would have been a neat premise for the opening of hostilities against Iraq. The administration was stunned and momentarily stilled when Iraq accepted the terms of the resolution. Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz discussed this with Norman Solomon, founder of the Institute for Public Accuracy, during a delegation trip to Iraq in December of 2002. "You know, sometimes you make an offer and you are planning to get a refusal," said Aziz. "We surprised them by saying, 'OK, we can live with it. We'll be patient enough to live with it.'" This exchange is recounted in Solomon's essential new book, 'Target Iraq.'
Iraq's acceptance of Resolution 1441 opened the door for the return of weapons inspectors to that nation. Those inspectors, and the process they have been engaged in, are now at the center of a stunning collapse of support for the Bush administration's plans. Once the administration became forced to live with the resolution it had created, it waited in eager anticipation for the inspectors to find something.