Wed, 19 Mar 2003

Forty-eight hours

The American president, George W. Bush, in a short speech delivered at the White House early Monday evening (Tuesday morning in Jakarta), set a deadline for the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, to leave the country. He said, "Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict commenced at the time of our choosing."

When this newspaper reaches its readers, of that time limit less than 24 hours will probably be left. It can be expected that Saddam Hussein will not submit to that ultimatum.

In other words, we can expect the second Iraq war to break out before the end of the week. This also means that the Cheney- Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz doctrine, which from the outset has considered Iraq as the source of all evil, has prevailed in the White House. Thus the necessity of a regime change in Baghdad, albeit with the related theme of destroying Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Looking at those who were present at the brief meeting that was held last week in the Portuguese-owned islands of the Azores, it will be immediately clear that what President Bush referred to as the "coalition of the willing" comprises a very limited number of countries indeed. Australia's Prime Minister John Howard, who is a strong supporter of Washington's hardline policy towards Iraq and is contributing troops and warships, was not even invited to the meeting. This painfully reveals to Australians that in the framework of current American geopolitics, it only occupies a marginal position.

The narrow international support that can thus be expected to underpin the American-British attack on Iraq was already evident when both countries, despite their all-out diplomatic efforts, could not muster the nine votes required in the Security Council in order to endorse a second UN resolution. That follow-up resolution to Resolution 1441, which was passed unanimously by the Security Council in November, was intended as a concrete mandate to launch military action against Iraq.

Such scant international support for the American-British resolve to attack Iraq without a special resolution from the UN Security Council again accentuates the mood of unilateralism that currently runs strong in Washington. Logically speaking, however, such unilateralism would further incite the anti-American and anti-British sentiments that have been smoldering in various parts of the world, including Indonesia.

For this reason, it is of vital importance for President Megawati Soekarnoputri to appeal to the Indonesian public, in clear and effective terms, not to turn the Iraq war into a triggering event for further raising the Indonesian domestic political temperature. The various organizations that are critical of the American-British role in pushing for a war against Iraq must not out-compete each other in demonstrating their anti-war stance.

All we can hope for now is that the war will be short and take a minimum number of victims so that the fragile political order in Indonesia will not be destabilized in a serious manner.