President George W. Bush is proving himself to be a good chess player, perhaps of grandmaster status. He has maneuvered Iraq, the United Nations, the U.S. Congress and the various factions within his own administration into place to checkmate Saddam Hussein. What the hawks tend to forget is that chess is a game of maneuver that ends not with capture or elimination of the king but rather when the king is cornered with no way out. That's where Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell have put Hussein -- in checkmate.
Now that the U.N. Security Council has passed Resolution 1441 demanding that Iraq allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country under an "enhanced inspection regime" and Hussein has extended the invitation to the inspectors, it's time to give inspections a chance to succeed in disarming Iraq.
And Iraq would be well-advised to take this opportunity since it will be the last one they have.
If the inspectors are allowed to do their job -- which Resolution 1441 contemplates will include the "removal, destruction or rendering harmless (of) all prohibited weapons, subsystems, components, records, materials and other related items, and the right to impound or close any facilities or equipment for the production thereof" -- I can envision a situation some months off when the Security Council could vote to begin lifting sanctions. If, on the other hand, Hussein obstructs the inspections in any way or otherwise fails to comply with his disarmament obligations, sanctions can always be put back on or military force can be brought to bear swiftly and overwhelmingly.
No one knows what the outcome will be, but we would enhance our chances for success by announcing that if the inspections are successful and Iraq cooperates in disarming, then we will lift the embargo and remove sanctions. The conditions under which the sanctions would be lifted have never been clarified since President Bill Clinton undermined the original U.N. inspections regime by unilaterally declaring that the sanctions on Iraq would never be lifted as long as Hussein remained in power. It's time, under the terms of U.N. Resolution 687, to clarify the conditions under which sanctions would be lifted.
Bismarck's observation that sausage and legislation are two things one doesn't want to watch in the making applies also to U.N. resolutions. Through weeks of brinksmanship, recriminations and name-calling, Security Council members grappled with the toughest task it ever confronts: preserving the sovereign right of every nation to defend itself unilaterally while simultaneously doing everything possible to avoid the use of armed force except when it must be taken in the common interest.
Under the terms of Resolution 1441, weapons inspectors will have "immediate, unimpeded, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all locations" in Iraq "with the aim of bringing to full and verified completion the disarmament process established by Resolution 687 and subsequent resolutions of the council." Resolution 1441 also instructs the chief weapons inspector "to report immediately to the (Security) Council any interference by Iraq with inspection activities, as well as any failure by Iraq to comply with its disarmament obligations."
Recalling that "the council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations," Resolution 1441 requires that in the event the chief weapons inspector reports Iraqi interference or failure to comply with its disarmament obligations, the Security Council shall convene immediately "to consider the situation and the need for full compliance with all of the relevant council resolutions in order to secure international peace and security."
Finally, the resolution states unambiguously that "the resolutions of the (Security) Council constitute the governing standard of Iraqi compliance." In other words, no unilateral or allied military action against Iraq is authorized by this resolution, although it holds forth the prospect that military action will be authorized by future resolution if the Security Council determines, based on a report by the chief weapons inspector, that Iraq is not in compliance and that such action is warranted.
The Security Council resolution couldn't have come at a more opportune time. Last week it was revealed that Osama bin Laden is almost certainly still alive, along with his top lieutenant. Al-Qaeda and elements of the Taliban are slipping back into Afghanistan, and recent elections in Morocco, Turkey, Bahrain and Pakistan, where Islamic parties swept to power through the democratic process, reveal that radical Muslim elements are gaining ground politically around the world.
Now our attention and resources must be concentrated not only on disarming Iraq but also on the immediate threat of Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda wannabes around the world who, with a single hunting rifle, a few sticks of dynamite, a well-placed car bomb or, God forbid, another hijacked commercial jetliner, can terrorize the entire nation. As the Washington, D.C., area sniper attacks demonstrated, weapons capable of killing one individual at a time are just as effective at terror as some future prospect of weapons of mass destruction.
Not only is it time to clarify the conditions for removing sanctions, it's time to lower the level of bellicosity that has been raised by some in Washington to such a fever pitch that there is even talk of making an unholy alliance with the fundamentalist regime in Iran against a greater evil. Been there, done that with Iraq in the 1980s, don't want to do it again.