WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The similarities are almost surreal.
Everyone knows that a terrible crime has been committed. The blood, bodies,
photographs, tape recordings, hundreds of investigators and reams of
scientific data support the charges.
For weeks before the case is presented, it is the topic of
discussion for every talking head with a microphone. Everyone has an
opinion, and by the time the jury is seated nearly all have made up their
minds -- with most concluding that the accused committed the crime. The
evidence is overwhelming. There is no credible alibi. But the bad guy gets
off. That's how it was in the O.J. trial, and that's how it was in New York
this week when the U.N. Security Council sat down to hear the case against
No prosecutor could have presented the case better than
Secretary of State Colin Powell. He said it was an "irrefutable and
undeniable" indictment of Saddam Hussein's regime -- and it was. The
evidence presented against the Iraqi dictator and his accomplices wasn't
just circumstantial. For nearly 90 minutes Powell offered detailed, specific
and convincing proof that violations of international law had occurred --
and were still taking place in Iraq. But when it was over, it was clear that
the fix was already in. The United Nations Security Council played the role
of the O.J. jury -- and decided the accused should slip the noose.
Both cases have proven prohibitively expensive. The O.J. case,
the second most expensive in Los Angeles history, cost more than $9 million.
The case against Saddam has been even costlier -- requiring the United
States to divulge invaluable intelligence sources and methods. The price of
playing tape-recorded telephone and radio communications among Iraqi
officials means that we have lost forever this method of gathering
information about this adversary -- and perhaps many others as well.
O.J. vowed to "find the real killers." Saddam promised "full
disclosure." O.J. had Johnny Cochran. Saddam has French Foreign Minister
Dominique de Villepin. Cochran distracted the jury from the facts and
accused the Los Angeles Police Department of racial bias and shoddy
investigative work. Monsieur de Villepin ignores the facts, accuses the
United States of bias and demands further investigative work. Johnny
Cochran's "O.J. defense" brought him fame and fortune. Dominique de
Villepin's "Saddam defense" will bring him ... ?
Why have a French foreign minister -- and France -- become the
pre-eminent defenders of the brutal Iraqi regime. French motives for
supporting Saddam appear to be far more complex -- and much more ominous --
than Johnny Cochran's blithe comment that "even the guilty deserve a good
Those with a benign perspective claim the French opposition to
forcibly disarming Iraq is nothing more than the consequence of growing
European antipathy and resentment toward "American dominance" on the world
stage. Others with a less charitable point of view have said it's because
French government officials are on the take.
Two weeks ago, senior U.S. officials were briefed on allegations
that French President Jacque Chirac may have personally accepted cash from
Baghdad. But official venality and bribery are so commonplace in the corrupt
French political system that this hardly seems sufficient to explain the
most recent French proposal for dealing with Saddam and his weapons of mass
After presenting the bill of particulars on Iraq's
destructiveness, deceit and duplicity, Powell asked, "How much longer are we
willing to put up with Iraq's noncompliance before we as a council -- as the
United Nations -- say, 'Enough is enough'?" De Villepin had a previously
prepared answer: "Let us triple the number of inspectors. Let us open more
regional offices ... set up a specialized body to keep under surveillance
the sites that have already been inspected." In short: Paris wants to
postpone the inevitable for as long as possible.
The most sinister interpretation of French delaying tactics is
that they have much to hide. Everyone knows that the French helped Iraq
build its first nuclear reactor -- the Osarik facility that Israel destroyed
in 1981. But intelligence analysts at the Pentagon say that the French want
to conceal the magnitude of their involvement in providing Iraq with the
means of producing chemical and biological weapons and delivery systems, as
well. There is widespread suspicion that Paris is so concerned about U.S.
intelligence officers and FBI agents going through the records in Baghdad
after an invasion that French commercial and intelligence officials are
actively helping the Iraqis destroy the evidence.
In the military, it's become a humorless joke: "French
duplicity" is now described as an oxymoron. After Powell's presentation, I
asked an officer, "When should I head out to join the unit I'm going to
cover for Fox News?" His reply: "You'll know the shooting is about to start
when all the purchase orders, invoices and bills of lading for chemical
weapons printed in French have been shredded."
In the O.J. trial, Cochran made much of the fact that no murder
weapon was ever found and convinced a jury of 12 to let O.J. off the hook.
The evidence on Saddam is now before a "jury" of 15 in the UN. President
Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair need to act soon, before Dominique de
Villepin persuades them that the Scud doesn't fit -- and they vote to