On Feb. 5, the day he made his damning case against Iraq to the United Nations, Defense Secretary Colin Powell had some simple, but prophetic words for Dan Rather on "60 Minutes II." Is Powell clairvoyant, or is Saddam Hussein utterly predictable?
"It wouldn't surprise me," said Powell, "if (Saddam) offered some token to the inspectors and made some offer with respect to process. But that's not what we're looking for. We're looking for a substantive change in the policy of his government, not just another way to play cat-and-mouse with the inspectors."
Just four days later, U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and U.N. nuclear chief Mohammed ElBaradei emerged from two days of yet another round of talks in Baghdad with Iraqi officials, expressing cautious optimism about the potential for progress in the Iraqi disarmament process.
The two gentlemen seemed impressed that Iraq turned over additional documents related to "outstanding issues" concerning anthrax, VX nerve gas and Iraqi missile development. And, in its graciousness, Saddam's benevolent regime offered certain unspecified "assurances" that Iraq would expand a commission to conduct a nationwide search for weapons, weapons programs and "relevant documents."
So Powell was right on the money, but what he didn't predict -- at least publicly -- was the level of gullibility with which the U.N. inspection duo would continue to drink in Saddam's elixir of deceit. Do you realize how surreal this is? Saddam is offering to redouble his efforts to search his own country for evidence of his own wrongdoing.
Only if Saddam's brain were as rigidly compartmentalized as it is evil would he not know exactly where his weapons of mass destruction are hidden. For Iraq's offer to make sense, Saddam would have to have multiple personalities on the order of Sybil with one of them feverishly producing, then hiding these weapons and the other searching in earnest for them.
Equally absurd is the commitment Blix and ElBaradei belatedly extracted from Saddam's henchmen that the Iraqi parliament would pass legislation banning weapons of mass destruction. Such a law would be about as serious as democratic elections in the former Soviet Union -- or Iraq, for that matter. So it's curious they initially rejected the idea, just as they originally declined permission for American U-2 surveillance planes to assist with the inspections and then relented.
Either Iraq is playing these U.N. boys like a fiddle, or they are so viscerally opposed to war as an option that they're willing to accept any overture from this lying regime if it means buying more time. "I perceive a beginning," said Blix. "I hope I have seen a beginning of taking these remaining disarmament issues seriously." And his sidekick ElBaradei added, as if there were muscle behind his comments, "We made it clear to Iraq they need to move on the whole file."
I promised myself I'd never utter that trendy sub-slang word "duh," but no real word quite captures the Keystone-Koppish nature of this lunacy. If these buffoons just now "made it clear to Iraq" that it needs to come clean on its WMD programs after 12 years of being jerked around, I have to conclude they're as incompetent as he is diabolical. And if they believe him this time, there isn't a bridge in Brooklyn they wouldn't buy. All of this is especially disappointing on the heels of Hans Blix's impressively tough presentation to the U.N. confirming Iraq's incorrigible duplicity.
After Secretary Powell's "closing argument" to the U.N. the world knows that Saddam is violating every imaginable letter of the U.N. resolutions and Gulf War Treaties, producing and hiding weapons of mass destruction, and aiding and abetting terrorists. All the while, he's laughing in our faces.
I can't foresee us continuing this wild-goose chase any longer, even under the misguided European proposal to triple the inspectors and augment them with U.N. "blue helmets." President Bush is correct that as long as Dr. Saddam Strangelove rules Iraq, we will never be sure we have completely disarmed him. That's true no matter how much time we take, how many inspectors we use (in however many white vans they drive), and no matter how many blue helmets accompany them.
It's painfully obvious by now that some will simply never comprehend nor embrace the reality that this is not now and never has been about "hunting" for weapons. It's about compliance. People who don't want to comply won't unless they are forced to.
In short order, Iraq will be forced to.