It's regrettable that so soon after the tragic loss of seven heroic lives in the Columbia space shuttle disaster I am preoccupied with the prospect of even greater loss of innocent life in Iraq because the government there doesn't seem to get it. Just three days after President Bush's eloquent State of the Union address, Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri was given a golden opportunity to speak directly to the American people and to our government when he was interviewed by Ray Suarez on PBS. Boy, did he blow it.
Suarez asked all the right questions, and had Aldouri given correct answers, he might have helped demonstrate to the world that Iraq is truly serious about disarming and avoiding war. He might even have prepared the way for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, complete with an end to the economic sanctions that have been imposed on Iraq since the Persian Gulf War.
Instead, Aldouri sounded like a parody of a diplomat. Rather than giving direct answers, he spouted hackneyed mumbo jumbo that sounded deceptive and disingenuous. When Suarez asked Aldouri if Iraq is willing to meet the conditions U.N. inspectors set out for a meeting requested by Iraqi officials, the correct answer would have been, "Yes." Aldouri's answer was 82 words of gobbledygook about how they asked the inspectors to attend the meeting "as much for the international community as Iraq."
Asked if Saddam Hussein would be willing to meet with Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix, Aldouri should have answered, "Of course." Instead, he answered with 70 words of obfuscation, including, "Perhaps he can do that, and perhaps he cannot do that."
Suarez reminded Aldouri that Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have said the United States still hopes this matter can be resolved peacefully and asked him, "Is Iraq ready for war?" Aldouri said Iraq did not want war, but if war came they would "defend our people, our independence, our country."
The correct answer would have been, "Of course not. America will crush us with her military might, and many innocent Iraqi people will die. We are a proud people, but we are not suicidal. Tell us what you will accept as 'evidence' that we have disarmed, and we will do everything in our power to present it to you."
When Suarez brought up a suspected link between Iraq and al-Qaeda, Aldouri sounded like a shyster lawyer defending a guilty client: "We are confident and we are sure - we know ourselves - that he (Bush) cannot prove that there were any kind of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda in the past or in the present or even in the future."
The correct answer would have been, "We are aware that al-Qaeda has operatives inside Iraq, but the Iraqi government is not harboring them. In fact, we can produce evidence that we have captured and killed a number of al-Qaeda operatives. Al-Qaeda forces today are in the Kurdish-population areas protected by the U.S. no-fly zones, and they are outside the reach of the Iraqi government. If the U.S. government would send some of its special forces into the region to clean out the al-Qaeda enclaves, the Iraqi government would cooperate fully."
When Suarez asked if Iraq could prove that it had disarmed, Aldouri really fumbled. He protested that "Mr. (Rolf) Ekeus, the director of UNSCOM, already in 1994 did declare and later on this month declared that more than 95 percent of the whole program of mass destruction weapons is completely destroyed." While this statement has some truth to it, it misses the point and leaves the impression that Iraq refuses to take affirmative steps to prove it is disarming.
Aldouri should have said, "In his State of the Union Address, Bush referred to anthrax, botulinum toxin, sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent, munitions capable of delivering chemical agents and several mobile biological weapons labs that are unaccounted for. If the U.N. inspectors will return to Iraq, we will demonstrate that we no longer possess any of these weapons. We will show them anything they want to see anywhere in the country they want to go."
He could also have explained, "Here is the source of the difficulty. When the Gulf War ended in 1991, the United Nations resolved that the economic embargo on Iraq would be lifted if Iraq destroyed its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs within six months. In a rush to demonstrate compliance, we undertook a crash program to destroy all such programs we had been working on during the 1980s. When the U.N. inspectors arrived, they complained that we should have waited for them to verify the existence of these materials and supervise their destruction. If we can't produce the missing weapons, tell us what we must do to convince you they don't exist, and we will do it, but we can't produce what we don't have."
If there are any Iraqi officials left who sincerely want to avoid war, they had better start giving correct answers and doing the right things. The window is closing, and it would be a tragedy if people who genuinely want to avoid war are given no option other than to wage it.