As readers of this column know, I've had some serious questions about the need to invade Iraq at this time. I am, however, outraged by the recent trip of several members of Congress who went to Baghdad and questioned the leadership and integrity of our president. I might also add former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., to the list of left-wing critics who have attacked the president's integrity under the guise of raising legitimate differences of opinion as to the proper course of action in Iraq.
In my opinion, Congress must give the president an effective legislative mandate to enforce Iraq's disarmament as called for by a series of U.N. resolutions, which would entail the authority to use military force if necessary.
According to Hans Blix, the chairman of the U.N. arms inspectorate (MOVIC), if the inspectors have immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to sites, the degree of Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions on nuclear weapons can be verified fairly rapidly and other troubling questions on biological and chemical weapons could be answered within a year.
The inspectorate was created by U.N. Resolution No. 1284 to replace UNSCOM, the inspectorate in effect between the end of the Gulf War and 1998, when inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq. Blix contends MOVIC is the "most far-reaching multilateral inspection system that has so far been created."
Iraq says it is willing to allow inspectors back into the country under the terms of Resolution 1284 but the administration says that's not good enough and that it will "thwart" the reentry of inspectors under these terms. President Bush correctly insists that Congress and the United Nations back up inspections with the use of force in the event that Iraqi fails to cooperate.
As strongly as I support the president, I hope the language of a congressional resolution and any new U.N. resolution is not so broad as to act as a booby trap on a hairspring tripwire. Language authorizing the use of military force in Iraq should, I believe, serve to act more as a loaded-and-cocked shotgun left for now behind the door.
That shotgun existed prior to 1996, when the threat of force was ever present to backup the inspectors. As former UNSCOM deputy executive director Robert Gallucci has said, "It was always plausible that if the inspections didn't go well, everything would be pulled out, and a full-scale military campaign would resume." Invariably, Iraqi resistance would crumble in the face of UNSCOM persistence, backed up by the threat of U.S. military action. Saddam Hussein's officials would relent, admit to their previous lies and permit the inspectors the access they sought. As a result, the UNSCOM inspectors succeeded in forcing Iraq to disarm almost completely by 1998.
Far from being a failure due to a lack of enforcement authority, UNSCOM was succeeding in its primary objective -- disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and destroying the capability to produce more of them in the future. It wasn't a pretty process but it was effective.
Circa 1996, the Clinton administration discontinued any serious effort to disarm Iraq. President Clinton withdrew his administration's support for aggressive UNSCOM inspections backed up by the plausible threat of military enforcement, which left only an illusion of arms control. The Clinton administration began to talk of using economic sanctions to "contain" Saddam Hussein and announced that sanctions would never be lifted on Iraq as long as Saddam remained in power.
The more belligerent the Clinton administration's rhetoric became, the more evident it also became that the president was not willing to enforce aggressive inspections, and the more intransigent Hussein became. Finally, in 1998, out of frustration with Hussein's staying power, the Clinton administration resorted to a stepped-up bombing campaign, using intelligence gathered by spies that had been infiltrated into UNSCOM's inspection team, in an effort to topple Hussein from power.
These misdirected and feckless new policies not only sabotaged the disarmament process, they also undermined international support for an ongoing disarmament and monitoring effort. In the eyes of the world, the United States had become an overweening bully, never intending to allow sanctions to be lifted, intent on punishing the Iraqi people for the inconveniencing -- but by no means fatal -- obstructionism of its leaders.
Consequently, I believe the first order of business is to get inspectors back into Iraq backed up by a plausible threat of military enforcement. The best and surest way to maintain stability in the region while protecting our national security is to keep Iraq intact and Saddam Hussein in his box. He has reopened the door to the inspectors, and, in my opinion, we should take him up on the offer immediately. Congress must also pass a resolution authorizing the president to use military force to enforce go-anywhere-anytime snap inspections, but only after the United Nations certifies that Iraq is materially in breach of relevant U.N. resolutions or the president determines that the United States is in imminent danger of being attacked by Iraq or by forces assisted by Iraq.