The Bush cheer-squad, including Andrew Sullivan, is busy praising the brilliance of Bush’s strategy, and the way he has seized the initiative from the UN. Assuming Bush’s real objective has been to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, his strategy has indeed been optimal. By putting forward a credible ‘ambit claim’ of regime change, and sending a series of mixed messages on unilateral action, Bush has ensured that he can extract a strong resolution from the UN Security Council demanding readmission of weapons inspectors. If Saddam doesn’t comply, the ground will be cut from under the opponents of military action.
But suppose Saddam does comply and is sensible enough to destroy whatever he has left of his weapons programs before the inspectors arrive. He gets a clean bill of health and there is no war. This would be a great thing for the world, but I can’t imagine it would make Andrew Sullivan too happy, especially since there would then be no real case for continued sanctions.
To put the point more bluntly, if Bush’s objective is to ensure an invasion of Iraq, his UN speech has ensured that the goal can be achieved only if Saddam chooses to assist him by refusing co-operation. It’s rarely a good strategy to hand the initiative to your opponent.
Update According to this analysis in The New Republic , the “war party” in the Bush administration is (rightly from their viewpoint) horrified by the prospect of an ultimatum on weapons inspection that Saddam might accept. Where does this leave Sullivan? Maybe he really is focused on the weapons issue, in which case good on him. Or maybe he wants war but is just not as smart as the rightwingers TNR is talking to.