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Too Late?

Suddenly, the international community faces a collection of major matters on which both publics and parliaments are told: "Sorry, too late to change."

Included are: smart-bombing Iraq, pushing ahead on the euro, and enlarging NATO. All use we've-gone-too-far-to-turn-back logic. On Iraq and NATO, it's the Clinton administration telling its allies, Congress, and the US public that regional safety and superpower credibility are on the line. On European Monetary Union, it's German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his fellow first-round euro leaders making the can't-stop-now argument.

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Are those arguments sound?

First, Iraq. Despite US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's threat that any attack would be much more than "a pinprick," Washington is clearly not willing to commit the ground troops necessary to wipe out all chemical and biological weapons and/or remove Saddam Hussein. Therefore there should still be time to find a compromise that would allow the UN inspection-and-destruction regime to resume, along with more humanitarian aid for Iraqis.

Next, the euro. Despite some troubling economic realities pointed out by 155 German economics professors, it does seem late to swerve the economic unification drive. That's mainly because convergence of European economies is only marginally improved by waiting a few years. Jamming on the brakes now would cause market uncertainty and hardly help efforts to reduce unemployment.

Last, NATO. We have long favored expansion of the European Union (market enlargement) as a forerunner to NATO enlargement. We still do. But here, going back on the initial deal (adding Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic to NATO) would do damage. Better to say that in future EU membership precedes NATO membership. The horse before the cart.

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