With Secretary of State Colin Powell’s meeting with the members of the United Nations Security this morning, the United States will have fulfilled its obligation to come back to the body before proceeding with action against Iraq, according to a senior administration official. The U.S. will follow the same course of action with respect to Saddam Hussein regardless of what the council does after meeting with Powell, the official adds.
Although Powell will not be divulging the entirety of U.S. intelligence on Iraq, the members of the council should find the evidence presented “compelling,” notes another senior administration official. More than anything, the presentation could prove an embarrassment to the weapons inspectors, whose toothless tactics have yielded little tangible results. The inspectors have inverted the very purpose of their mission from forcing Hussein to prove that he has disarmed into a cat-and-mouse game where several dozen inspectors play hide-and-seek with portable weapons caches under the control of the entire Iraqi government.
Associates say that Powell’s recent public appearance of forcefulness will also be on full display behind closed doors. Many skittish council members, because of Powell’s past position, may be more convinced of the U.S. case by the messenger than the message itself. The same may be said of the American people, many of whom quite possibly sensed—and even identified with—Powell’s noticeable hesitance. So what happened? There are two answers: one charitable, the other cynical.
Powell has been intimately involved in all the wrangling over Iraq, and consequently knows the very same intelligence that has led Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney to conclude that an armed Hussein poses an imminent threat. So it is possible that Powell’s change-of-heart has genuine motives. But that body of information has not changed substantially over the past several months, yet Powell has.
Powell’s greatest influence in changing his tune on Iraq is likely his military background—not in the sense that it guided him to believing that war is necessary, but that his strong sense of allegiance has been the driving force. “He realized where the President is, so he decided to be a good soldier and salute,” notes a senior administration official. Those who know him agree that Powell is nothing if not loyal.
But observers have noticed that the Secretary of State is not just making the case for war in Iraq; he is making it resolutely and passionately—and something France and Germany did may be the reason why. When the leaders of the two socialists nations ganged up on a surprised Powell last month, the Secretary of State “felt ambushed,” in the words of an official who witnessed Powell’s demeanor following the PR debacle. Powell in no way allowed the event to affect his decision, but according to those around him, it certainly impacted his intensity. And that higher energy level has had the effect of invigorating others at State who might otherwise be—at best—apathetic about the push for war in Iraq.
After tomorrow’s briefing—the official billing from the State Department, as of press time, was that it is a “session”—U.S. officials will attempt to read the tea leaves about the votes on the council. But only one country really matters: France. Although three nations besides France and the U.S. have veto power—China, Russia, and Britain are the others—only French leaders are seen as willing to thwart a follow-up resolution. If France signals that it will vote for—or at least not block—a resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, then the Bush Administration will offer one. If France’s stance is one of opposition—or simply ambiguous—then the U.S. will abandon plans for U.N. support and instead go with Plan B, a coalition of the willing.
Either way, Americans should expect imminent action with the goal of disarming Hussein. Notes Richard Perle, chairman of the influential Defense Policy Board (a civilian committee that advises the Pentagon): “Based on the President’s own words, it seems inevitable that we are going to war.” A senior administration official concurs: “I don’t see any way war doesn’t happen, unless there’s something dramatic, like a coup.”