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Make Him an Offer He Can’t Accept


President Bush is no Don Corleone. When the Godfather wanted something, he would make an uncooperative person an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Mr. Bush, following his predecessor, makes his adversary an offer he can’t accept.

Former President Clinton did this with President Milosevic of Yugoslavia before launching a war over Kosovo. Clinton made demands — including allowing NATO forces complete run of the country — that he knew Milosevic couldn’t accept. No leader of a sovereign nation would have done so. The last person who wanted Milosevic to accept them was Clinton himself, because war then would have been more difficult to initiate.

Mr. Bush is now mimicking Mr. Clinton. Since his threats to effect a “regime change” in Iraq (a hideous euphemism that masks the intent to destroy Iraq’s civilian infrastructure and further devastate an already devastated people) have been less than well received by most of the world, he was forced to give Iraq one more chance to comply with UN weapons-inspection and other requirements. True, some administration officials think no amount of compliance should matter. But some people see the public-relations value in appearing to offer a last chance to avoid war.

There are a few flies in the ointment, however. First, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein did not throw the UN inspectors out back in the late 1990s. They left to avoid being caught in the U.S. bombing of Iraq. Second, Hussein’s charge that the U.S. government had placed CIA operatives — spies — on the inspection teams turned out to be correct.

In light of this, he probably was not eager to let the teams back in. But he also wants to hold onto power, which a war would jeopardize. So he’s agreed to go along with a new inspection regime in an attempt to reinforce the world’s distaste for a U.S. attack.

So Mr. Bush has a problem now. It never looks good to be the one who can’t take “yes” for an answer.

The challenge then, contra Don Corleone, is to make Hussein an offer he really can’t accept. That shouldn’t be too difficult for Mr. Bush and his cadre of geniuses. But they will have to do more than simply demand free rein for the inspection teams or the release of political prisoners or the return of Kuwaiti property. Here are a few ideas for guaranteeing Hussein’s refusal. The United States could demand that he:

* Introduce pork into the Iraqi people’s diet, by force if necessary;
* Change the national language to Hebrew;
* Permit the secession of the Kurdish northern part of the country;
* Permit the secession of the Shi’ite southern part of the country;
* Shave his mustache;
* Let women join the army;
* Abolish the public schools;
* Abolish the income tax.

These should be nonnegotiable. I am confident that Hussein won’t go for any of them. There are several that Mr. Bush himself wouldn’t want accepted. Indeed, there are a few Mr. Bush would never accept for the United States.

When Hussein shows his intransigence by scoffing at Mr. Bush’s demands, the U.S. president will have his green light for war. No doubt the rest of the world will agree.

His speechwriters wouldn’t need much time to draft Mr. Bush’s remarks for a world audience:

“I have been more than patient with the ruthless dictator of Iraq. To show my willingness to go the last mile, I made a reasonable offer that any leader of goodwill would have accepted. That Saddam Hussein rejected my offer out of hand only shows he is unfit to be part of the world community. He has left me no choice but to launch ‘Operation: Regime Change’ to liberate the Iraqi people. Let’s roll.”

We certainly won’t have to worry about Congress’s standing in the way. Mr. Bush won’t even feel he has to ask for its approval to use force. Indeed, the courageous members of the House and Senate will stand in line to express their support for the war effort and our boys in uniform.

Then it’s on to Baghdad. Finally, we’ll be able to smile again.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.