John Chuckman

While you can believe very little of what you read or hear on the subject of Iraq, there is some reason to believe reports that Saddam Hussein is hesitating to comply with Hans Blix’s order to destroy his al Samoud II missiles.

I understand that the actual tested range of this missile only marginally exceeds its permitted range of 95 miles, and it may seem unreasonable that anyone should expect that a rocket’s burning fuel can be designed to take it precisely so far and not a bit farther in the absence of the precision guidance systems this missile lacks. Of course, Iraq’s enemy, Israel, has highly-accurate missiles with ranges many times the range of the al Samoud II, and they are nuclear-capable. And with an American armada surrounding Iraq, threatening invasion, any leader would naturally be reluctant to give up a weapon. But I truly hope the reports are exaggerated.

The world’s diplomats have worked a small miracle so far in stopping the crazed ideologues in the White House from launching a rash, unnecessary war. And most of the world’s people support the diplomats in this. There is spontaneous revulsion at Mr. Bush’s fevered statements about Iraq.

Mr. Blix has done a hero’s work trying to establish a rational inspection regime as an alternative to war while being subjected to a storm of abuse and misinformation from the White House.

Saddam Hussein has twice subjected Iraqis to needless death and misery on a large scale with failed wars against Iran and Kuwait. True enough, in both cases, he was encouraged by the amoral foreign policies of the United States, and in the case of the war against Iran, he was more than encouraged, he was supplied with tools and weapons and had a number of his brutal acts excused and covered up.

Despite being well aware of Hussein’s tyranny, thinking people reject Bush’s ignorant comparisons to the 1930s in Europe. They understand that diplomacy and respect for international institutions are not the same thing as “appeasement” or “capitulation.” They understand that it was precisely Bush-type ideologues who refused to let the United States even join the League of Nations after World War I, that many of these same ideologues profited doing business with Hitler while Britain valiantly struggled, and that it is the same ideologues who now disparage the UN, refusing to pay their share of costs unless they see the institution reduced to approving whatever it is they demand.

But if Hussein refuses to comply with Mr. Blix’s orders he does validate one comparison with the Hitler era. Hitler insisted on bringing Germany to utter ruin when he understood that his grand scheme had failed. Germany suffered terrible, needless destruction and reprisals because of Hitler’s nihilism. And so too will the poor, already-broken people of Iraq if Hussein opposes Mr. Blix.

Hussein should not mistake thoughtful opposition to war as consent to his ignoring any orders from the weapons inspectors. Hussein actually has a chance to demonstrate genuine statesmanship now by assiduously avoiding war. For this war will not only cripple Iraq, it may, just as Hitler’s insistence on self-immolation set conditions for the Cold War, bring a hostile and dangerous new order to the entire world.

Success in a high-tech war against an insignificant opponent can only raise the bloodlust of the fanatical neocons now governing the United States and increase their contempt for diplomacy and international institutions. It can only encourage them in their inclination to treat the rest of the planet the way Israel now treats its neighbors.

This possible development represents the broadest and most serious threat to the world’s peace and freedom in our time. One almost cannot imagine what terrible responses and conflicts would be set in motion. Only applied intelligence, diplomacy, and international institutions with enough spine to resist every whim of the United States can prevent the world from tumbling headlong into an abyss. But if Hussein holds the UN in contempt, he can hardly expect the gorillas of neocon America to be restrained by that same institution.