WASHINGTON--The Iraqi economy is devastated, the people destitute, the country desperately awaiting reconstruction. Fortunately, it has oil. Perversely, it cannot sell its oil because it is still technically under the U.N. sanctions imposed in 1990 on Saddam Hussein for his invasion of Kuwait, and kept in place when he refused to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction. All we need to get suffering Iraqis on the road to recovery is to lift the embargo and let them sell their oil.
Not so fast, says Russia's foreign minister. ``This decision cannot be automatic. For the Security Council to take this decision we need to be certain whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or not.''
In the history of diplomacy going back to, oh, Babylonian times, it is hard to find a pronouncement as cynical.
During the 1990s, when Saddam was concealing his weapons of mass destruction, the Russians did everything they could to lift sanctions. Indeed, in 1999 Russia refused to support the resolution renewing weapons inspections. It showed not the slightest concern about these WMDs when controlled by Saddam, a man who invaded two neighboring countries, attacked two others and used chemical weapons to kill tens of thousands of innocents. But now that Iraq is run not by a local mass murderer but an American president, Russia has acquired a sudden concern about Iraq's WMDs--and wants to keep sanctions imposed, and the Iraqi economy starved, until those concerns are satisfied.
Russia's breathtaking cynicism is matched by France's. The French, however, are more subtle. The WMD pretense is simply too transparent. The French speak instead of clarifying ``modalities'' before ending the embargo.
``Modalities'' is French for ``payoff.''
Having decided not just to sit out the war but to actively oppose the liberation of Iraq, France, like Russia, has only one card left to play in post-Saddam Iraq. Under U.N. rules, the sanctions can only be lifted by a positive vote of the Security Council, which means that France and Russia have veto power. Their concern about weapons of mass destruction and ``modalities'' is nothing more than simple blackmail.
What are they after? They want a continuation of the oil-for-food program-- Tommy Franks correctly called it the ``oil-for-palace program''--under which the U.N. has been using Iraqi oil proceeds to buy tons of goods largely from France, Russia and Syria (including equipment for ``educational TV'' and boat ``accessories,'' as Claudia Rosett notes in a devastating expose in The New York Times). They want the honoring of the enormous oil-exploration concessions that Saddam gave them (in return for their services to him at the U.N.). And they want the new Iraq to be saddled with the huge and reckless loans they made to Saddam to build his palaces and buy his weapons.
Until then, Iraq starves. This is blackmail so brazen it is hard to believe that the French and the Russians will have the courage to carry it out. Because of ``the public relations aspects,'' a Council diplomat told the Washington Post, ``I don't think they can hold the Iraqi economy hostage.''
But that is precisely what they are trying to do. What should America do? There are now reports that in order to buy off France and Russia, the Bush administration is prepared to leave parts of the embargo in place for now and continue the corrupt oil-for-food program that is a pig's trough for France, Russia, Syria and the U.N. bureaucracy that runs the scam for a 2.2 percent, billion-dollar-plus commission.
This is insane. We did win the war. And we will only win the peace if we can restore Iraq to economic health. And that starts by lifting the embargo. We should declare the embargo dead, let the oil-for-food program lapse and allow Iraq to reap the benefit of its own oil.
But if the State Department sentimentalists who worship at the shrine of the U.N. insist on a pilgrimage to Turtle Bay, we should go to the Security Council and submit a one-line resolution: ``Whereas the sanctions were imposed on the regime of Saddam Hussein; whereas that regime is no more; whereas sanctions are now needlessly preventing Iraq's economic recovery; the sanctions are hereby abolished.''
No ``modalities.'' No negotiations. No deals. Dare France and Russia to veto.
If they do, if they dare so naked a display of cynicism, we then simply declare that the Security Council has demonstrated its utter bankruptcy and forfeited all moral authority--transcending mere uselessness and becoming now an agent of harm, deliberately standing in the way of the reconstruction of a suffering and now innocent country.
We then ostentatiously stand up, walk out, and declare the sanctions dead. We then open the oil spigots and rebuild Iraq.
It is the right thing to do. It is the only thing to do.