Some good will come of Saddam Hussein's latest misbehavior if
it convinces 34 senators to do the right, if uncomfortable, thing
by blocking ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Ratification, to be voted on this week, would be an act of
conspicuous unseriousness, deepening democracies' tendency to
disconnect rhetoric from reality.
President Bill Clinton displayed that tendency when he
explained the U.S. attacks on Iraq: "When you abuse your own people
or threaten your neighbors you must pay a price." But the abuse of
a regime's people is not a sufficient reason for U.S. retaliatory
actions. And regarding Iraq's neighbors, none feel threatened
enough by Hussein's action, which is confined to Iraqi territory,
to publicly endorse the U.S. reaction.
A State Department spokesman said, "You cannot have agreed-upon
rules in the international system flouted by international
outlaws." But if the rules were agreed upon, "the international
community" would act like a community defined by shared norms.
There are no agreed-upon rules regarding the improvisation in
northern Iraq - the Kurds' "protected" area. The United States is
sensibly using Hussein's action there as a pretext for measures to
degrade Iraq's capacity for aggression southward, toward oil.
Given the sensibilities of democracies, realpolitik sometimes
must be couched in unrealistic language. But unrealism can become
habitual, which brings us to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which
supposedly would banish the spectre of chemical warfare.
In 1988 Hussein used chemical weapons with ghastly effects
against Kurdish villages and Iranian soldiers. Before the Persian
Gulf War, he produced large stockpiles of mustard gas and nerve
agents. During the war he deployed gas-filled artillery and rocket
rounds in rear areas.
Inspections after the war have confirmed the common-sense
conclusion that it is virtually impossible to prevent a closed
society's production of chemical weapons. Experts believe Iraq
retains significant chemical weapons production capabilities and
continues to refine chemical and biological weapons. There is no
reason to believe that Hussein or others like him would be reverent
regarding the Chemical Weapons Convention's impressively baroque,
but otherwise unimpressive, scheme of inspection and enforcement.
Critics of the Chemical Weapons Convention have many sound
objections concerning the convention's inspection apparatus, which
could be highhandedly intrusive, but only in societies where it
would be irrelevant - in open, lawful societies. …