Two interesting documents came out this week, from very different sources. One is a letter to the secretary general of the United Nations from Naji Sabri, the Iraqi foreign minister. Something of a verbal Dali painting, it reads like the foreign minister's nurse forgot to give him his medication.
The other is a sober statement from U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. One explains how Saddam plans to keep his nuclear weapons program, and the other illustrates how we might let him.
The Iraqi letter -really more of an eight-page run-on sentence -constitutes Saddam Hussein's formal acceptance of U.N. weapons inspectors. I say "formal acceptance," because if you know anything about Saddam, let alone if you read the letter closely, you will understand that the informal meaning is, "Up yours, America."
Sabri writes: "But if the whims of the American administration, the Zionist desires, their followers, intelligence services, threats, and foul temptation, were given the chance to play and tamper with the inspection teams or some of their members, the colors would be then confused and the resulting commotion will distort the facts and push the situation into dangerous directions which is something fair-minded people do not wish for, as well as the people who, including my government, want to bring forward the facts as they are."
First, it should be noted that if you put a sentence like this in your college essay, you'd probably end up at an institution that awards a mop and bucket upon graduation. But, more importantly, Saddam is in effect saying, "We reserve the right to make such a colossal ruckus and complain about spies and Zionists to the point where we can't be blamed for kicking out the inspectors and keeping our weapons programs."
In fact, this is what Saddam has done before. At a congressional hearing last September, David Kay, a former chief U.N. weapons inspector, detailed the sorts of games Saddam has played in the past.
In one of Kay's most illustrative examples, a fake defector working for Iraqi intelligence told Kay's group that Saddam had buried nuclear materials under Baghdad's central cemetery. The Iraqis hoped they could dupe the inspectors into digging up Muslim graves, which would give Saddam a huge public relations victory and an excuse to kick the inspectors out of Iraq.
Kay didn't fall for it, but it underscored a simple lesson. "As long as that government is not willing to give up its weapons of mass destruction program," Kay testified to Congress, "it just is not credible that inspectors by themselves will be able to do that against their determined opponent."
Which brings us to the bishops. In a statement that passed 228-14, the bishops declared, "We continue to find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature." OK, fair enough. You can respect the church for having a rigorous moral standard for what justifies a war.
But then they say, "We have no illusions about the behavior or intentions of the Iraqi government. The Iraqi leadership must cease its internal repression, end its threats to its neighbors, stop any support for terrorism, abandon its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction and destroy all such existing weapons."
Well, I'm sorry. The bishops, along with many opponents of toppling Saddam, do suffer from illusions about Saddam.
Over the last dozen years, Iraq has suffered a war, a decade of sanctions, geographic evisceration, economic deprivation, international opprobrium and countless humiliations, not because America is a vindictive or cruel oppressor but because Saddam is willing to pay virtually any price for power, especially the power that comes with weapons of mass destruction. He's forgone at least $160 billion in oil revenues solely because he doesn't want inspectors looking for his deadly toys.
Saddam has invaded two countries, and not a single student of the dictator thinks he'd hesitate to do it again if he could get away with it. And, the only way he can get away with it is to get a nuclear bomb that would make a Desert Storm-style American intervention next to impossible.
By the time the bishops get their "evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature," it will be too late to stop such an attack. Sanctions, inspections, negotiations and forceful letters from American clergy didn't deter Saddam before, and, judging from this letter, they aren't any more likely to deter him now.
The bishops are under the illusion that Saddam can be talked out of being Saddam. The Iraqis don't suffer from that illusion.