As it is known, wherever America goes, it must get there first. Today, America is going to be the first to decide the fate of Saddam Hussein and, accordingly, of the Iraqi oil. For Washington, the collective will of the international community is possibly something important, nevertheless minor.
Whatever President Bush can say in his state-of-the-union address on Tuesday, he faces three scenarios of further development of the U.S. - Iraqi confrontation. Bush's foreign policy team believes that the choice must be done within weeks, not months. Or, more precisely, within six weeks according to a recent leakage.
The first option is a war with Iraq without the UN consent.
The United States calls on the so-called "coalition of interested countries" and attacks Iraq disregarding the Security Council. In this case, Washington receives soldiers and weapons from such motley partners as the UK, Australia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. The former two are America's long-standing allies and the latter two possibly hope to get economic compensation. In their turn, such friends of the United States in the region as Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey provide bases and logistics support.
In order to justify its unsanctioned attack, the U.S. will most possibly charge Iraq with crimes of two levels - technological and terrorist, the latter is "higher", so to speak. At the technological level, Baghdad will be accused of evading co-operation with the inspectors, especially, of the unwillingness to give an account of the stocks of banned weapons which were found in Iraq earlier. These include 4 tonnes of VX nerve gas, components for the production of 20,000 litres of substances that can be used for biological weapons, 15,000 shells for their delivery and 6,000 chemical bombs.
At a higher level, the so-called Armageddon argument will be used. Washington and London will throw up their hands, saying they had no other option but attacking Iraq. How could they otherwise prevent Baghdad from handing weapons of mass destruction to international terrorists?
Indeed, how otherwise? It is not easy to give a substantial reply, unless we question the fact that Hussein has such malicious designs. The versions of Arab nationalism professed by Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are very different. The first type is not as malignant as the second, is it? Nobody has yet proved that Baghdad has any ties with Al-Qaeda.
It might seem that if a war is launched without the UN sanction, the U.S. can use successful experience - in 1999, it carried out bombings of Yugoslavia without the consent of the world community. At that time, Washington brushed aside the Security Council, as Russia's veto would disrupt any attempt to justify the aggression against Belgrade regarded at that time as Moscow's "historical ally".
However, these two international situations are incommensurable. At that time, America' interference with the Kosovo conflict had strong support of NATO and public opinion in the U.S. For a war on Iraq, the United States lacks allies both in the alliance and at home. France and Germany lead the opposition of most European countries against military solution to the Iraqi problem. At the same time, 57% of Americans believe that Washington has no right to command attack without the support of these two countries.
The American administration could also try to predict the reaction of the Arab world on its illegitimate military action. According to German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, "the consequences for regional stability will be catastrophic." The second option is a war via arm-twisting diplomacy.
In this case, George Bush will try to knock up consensus within the Security Council and obtain a resolution sanctioning the use of force.
So far, this option is unfeasible. Hans Blix recognised in his report to the Security Council on Monday that his inspectors in fact failed to prove that Iraq had banned weapons. The American intelligence does not seem to have sensational exposures with regard to Iraq either. And, primarily, Russia, France and China reject the force option and insist that UNMOVIC and IAEA should continue to work in Iraq. They do not rule out the extreme measure - using the right of veto.
But reality overturns even those forecasts that seem very sound. Eventually, the United States can exert unbearable pressure on the Security Council, so that even its permanent members would ponder over whether they have to kick against the pricks, when America is pursing its major international goals.
The possible new resolution should not necessarily sanction a war. It may be written in a sophisticated and ambiguous language, enabling the opposing countries to save their face and even to feel content with their "righteous" position. They would not have to say "war" or forgive Saddam...
Now, Washington is most concerned about the persistency of such Security Council members as Germany, Syria, Mexico and, possibly, Pakistan. However the precedent with voting on 1441 Resolution on November 8 showed that combinations of words in a diplomatic document are inexhaustible. For instance, Syria rejected the draft resolution, but an hour before the voting it informed the U.S. about its decision to vote for it.
This time, the relations with Washington can be ranked above the Arab solidarity.
It is not ruled out that in the coming days, the inspectors can find something that will urge the Security Council to adopt a "force resolution". But they will have to find real combat weapons really posing the threat of mass destruction. Empty warheads is empty business.
The third scenario is unexpected compromise.
George Bush has a chance of reaching a compromise with Iraq at the supreme moment, an agreement that would either avert the threat of war for a long time or exclude it at all.
For example, the U.S. President could consent to prolonging the period of the UN commission's work for several months. It does mean to give this commission "a chronological carte blanche" as IAEA Director Mohamed El Baradei insists. Such a gesture would enhance the U.S. positions in the eyes of its critics. They would recognise that Washington gave Saddam the ultimate chance and the Iraqi leader has no one to blame if he fails to use this chance.
So far, Bush's statements do not even hint that this is possible. From mid-April the manoeuvres of American soldiers in the Arab desert will be similar to browning in the microwave oven. "Time is expiring," Colin Powell says in Davos, Condoleezza Rice in an interview with the New York Times.
But there is one more variant of the compromise scenario - Saddam Hussein and his associates can leave Iraq for some other country (say, Belarus) to save their own state from war. It is this variant that top U.S. officials seem to be favouring.
However, Minsk denied its possible involvement in this sophisticated scenario. Still, it can only be realised in fantasies. Saddam Hussein believes that he is so great a leader of the Arab world that voluntary resignation is humiliating. "He is made of other stuff," according to a Russian analyst.