The Iraqi government, after much deceit, evasion and obstruction, has said yes to letting weapons inspectors back into the country and giving them immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to anywhere they desire to go, including "sensitive areas," the so-called "presidential palaces."
My friend the columnist Bill Safire says we should not take Iraq's yes for an answer. I think we should, with the ultimate aim of completely disarming Iraq. First, get inspectors back into Iraq backed up by a credible threat of military force. That's why Congress gave the president the authority to use force if necessary. We should keep this loaded gun cocked and at the ready.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said recently that in order "to pre-empt the future production of weapons of mass destruction, (Russia) will do whatever it takes together with the United Kingdom and other members of the Security Council."
Now is the time for the United Nations to pass a new resolution based upon Putin's "whatever is necessary" principle that would allow the chief weapons inspector, like a sheriff with a search warrant in hand, to show up at Saddam Hussein's door backed up with a credible threat of force sufficient to ensure the inspectors' safety and effective operation within Iraq.
I do not believe Iraq would resist, but if they do, by all means lower the boom and apply the force required, but only that required to successfully effect the search and destroy any weapons discovered. There is no need to burn down the house to gain entry, and disarmament is the goal, not a pre-emptory unilateral regime change. Regime change should only be undertaken as the ultimate means, if necessary, to effect disarmament.
I agree with Secretary of State Colin Powell that "the regime will not have to be changed if the regime changes its behavior" and that "military action will not be necessary if Iraq cooperates with the inspectors and eliminates all weapons of mass destruction." No matter how much we may suspect the regime will not change its behavior, cooperate fully with inspectors and voluntarily disarm, we cannot simply assume that to be the case and attack Iraq without a serious inspections effort first.
The hawks argue that President George W. Bush should not take yes for an answer because Hussein doesn't really mean yes when he says it. Safire, for example, argues that Hussein is simply "buying his scientists and arms buyers needed time to provide enriched uranium as well as the ability to deliver a germ weapon to the West's major cities. His technique has worked for him time and again over the past dozen years: acquiesce under pressure, play hide-and-seek with inspectors and then -- with France and Russia eager to do business -- eject the U.N. 'spies.'"
While I understand this concern, history demonstrates that Hussein's "technique" was actually a complete and utter failure. In spite of all manner of lying, obstructionism and delay by the Iraqis, the inspectors could report by the time they left in 1998 (they were not "ejected") that Saddam's nuclear capability was 99 percent destroyed, and they verified the destruction of more than 90 percent of his chemical and biological capability. Yes, he thumbed his nose at us and caused the inspectors all manner of inconvenience, but obscene gestures and inconvenience are no grounds for war.
Safire et al. respond that there is no way to know how far along Hussein has come in reconstituting his WMD capabilities since the inspectors left in 1998. As evidence, they cite the fact that although we thought Hussein was five years or more away from acquiring a nuclear weapon before the Gulf War, when inspectors went in after the war, they discovered he would have had a bomb within a year. Thus, the hawks argue, we must assume he has reconstituted his WMD capability since 1998 and therefore time is of the essence.
But that logic is fallacious. Iraq couldn't have a nuclear weapon without having tested it, which we certainly would have known about. If we had evidence of a nuclear test by Iraq, Bush certainly would have revealed it to the world by now. Moreover, unlike al-Qaeda, which would use weapons of mass destruction the minute it obtained them, Hussein has always sought WMD to blackmail and deter an attack. Yet that is impossible to do as long as he protests he doesn't have any. Almost certainly the CIA is correct when it says Iraq has not yet reconstituted its WMD capacity, and the surest way to ensure it does not is to get inspectors back into the country ASAP.
To his great credit, Bush has not been snookered by those whose agenda is more one of conquest than disarmament. He clearly does not intend to allow himself to be stampeded into immediately using his newly authorized grant of power from the Congress to invade Iraq, as evidenced by his unambiguous statement last week that military action is neither imminent nor unavoidable.
The president has played brinksmanship well up to this point, and it has been successful. A wise leader knows when he is succeeding and when to take yes for an answer.