Straight talk on Iraq

Posted: Dec 05, 2001 12:00 AM
The obsession of some members of the press and the political establishment to attack Iraq right now is disturbing. It is weird that they would divert precious resources from the war on Islamic terrorists, the more serious and immediate threat, in order to settle old scores with our Gulf-War nemesis, Saddam Hussein. We have yet to turn up conclusive evidence that Hussein harbors or assists Al-Qaeda terrorists or that he has forged a long-distance alliance with Al-Qaeda to wage war on America. Using Sept. 11 and subsequent anthrax attacks as pretexts for settling old scores with Iraq would undermine the war effort. It would play into bin Laden's hands, turning a focused war against the Islamic terror network into a much wider conflict with the Arab and Muslim world that our European allies and even Turkey could not support. Desirable as it would be to see the Iraqi people liberated from Hussein's tyranny, it is not necessary to force him from power in order to neuter him as a threat to our country or the region. Former President George Bush was right to stop the Gulf War upon achieving the alliance's stated aim of throwing Iraq out of Kuwait rather than changing the objective and driving all the way to Baghdad and deposing Hussein. The United Nations was correct to impose sanctions on Iraq to force it to destroy its stock of chemical and biological weapons and its capacity to produce any more chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The real problem with the sanctions began in 1995, when the head of the U.N. inspection team said Iraq was 95 percent "disarmed," and disagreement arose over how to verify the remaining 5 percent. By 1997, the head of the U.N. inspection team at that time, Scott Ritter, said that as far as chemical and biological weapons were concerned Iraq was fully "disarmed" and posed no threat to rest of the world. Iraq argued that it had fully complied with U.N. Resolution 687 and demanded that the sanctions be lifted. Had Bush remained in office, he would have worked through these problems, gained the access we needed to find anything else or convince ourselves nothing else existed and lift the sanctions. Instead, President Bill Clinton and his Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, committed one of the biggest foreign policy blunders since the Bay of Pigs when they allowed spies to be infiltrated into the U.N. inspection team and took it upon themselves to raise the bar on Iraq, making the lifting of sanctions contingent on Hussein's ouster. They transformed sanctions from a diplomatic tool with a precise and obtainable objective into a blunt instrument of pain to inflict punishment on innocent Iraqi civilians, removing any incentive Hussein might have had to cooperate and destroying any chance we had to keep tabs on him. We are still paying for the Clinton/Albright blunder. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell are right to try to get U.N. inspectors back into Iraq, and they have an opportunity to undo the enormous damage done by Clinton and Albright so that the terms of U.N. Resolution 687 can be implemented fully. If Iraq refuses this reasonable approach, then would be the proper time to consider military options. Nuclear inspections continue in Iraq to this day within the framework of Iraq's participation in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In January, the IAEA carried out a verification of the nuclear-weapons-usable material still remaining in Iraq. With the co-operation of the Iraqi authorities, IAEA inspectors were able to verify that Iraq was in full compliance with the terms and conditions of Iraq's Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards and security agreement, which are less restrictive than U.N. Resolution 687. The IAEA says that if it could reenter Iraq and satisfy itself that the status of other nuclear activities forbidden by U.N. Resolution 687 had not changed since U.N. inspectors left in 1998, then the Ongoing Monitoring and Verification plan required by U.N. Resolution 687 could be fully implemented. Can we be sure of this? Of course not. Practically speaking we can't be absolutely sure of anything. But we surely did succeed ultimately in containing the Soviet Union, a far bigger threat, and there is no reason we can't do the same to Hussein. I have a suggestion for the Iraqis: Cool the rhetoric, stop shooting at our airplanes, publicly announce that you are prepared to undertake specific steps to assist the allies in the war against terrorism, request a meeting with the Bush administration to get U.N. inspectors back into Iraq and establish the terms on which sanctions can be lifted. I would urge the Bush Administration to continue efforts to get U.N. inspectors into Iraq and reaffirm U.N. Resolution 687 as the basis of U.S. policy toward Iraq, not the Clinton/Albright doctrine that keeps sanctions in place no matter what Iraq does.