Each morning the little white UN cars appear on our TV screens
tooling around Baghdad. In the afternoon, we hear from UN Secretary General
Kofi Annan that all is going well. Secretary of State Colin Powell, too,
assures us that the inspections are going fine.
What in the world are they talking about? A tiny contingent of
12 inspectors (it will later increase to 100) are driving around Iraq -- a
nation the size of California -- attempting to find the weapons facilities
that Saddam has spent two decades carefully concealing. This is a farce.
Everyone knows that Saddam has these weapons. Why else did he kick out the
last UN inspection team? And everyone also knows that the UN has no
incentive to say so.
Take Hans Blix, the Swedish leader of the inspection team. Blix
was selected for this task over his predecessor, Richard Butler, precisely
because the French and Russians felt confident that he would be a softie.
Security Council Resolution 1441 requires that Blix report any noncompliance
on the part of the Iraqis to the United Nations. But as Robert Kagan and
Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard ask: "What are the chances that Mr. Blix
will want to blow the whistle on Saddam -- knowing that he may thereby
signal the start of a war that he and his backers at the Security Council
want to avoid?"
Liberals and international diplomats (a distinction without a
difference) have notorious difficulty understanding how to deal with
totalitarian regimes. Just as Bill Clinton did not understand that the only
way to get an honest account out of Juan Gonzalez (Elian's father) would be
to offer asylum to his entire family, the UN weapons inspectors will not
take the necessary steps to protect Iraqi scientists and their families from
retribution by the regime. There has been talk that Blix and company might
take some Iraqi scientists out of the country to question them about Iraq's
nuclear program. (And by the way, we already have the first-hand accounts of
a number of defectors, including Saddam's chief bomb maker, that the program
exists.) But taking individual scientists to Geneva for a day will be
meaningless unless entire families are evacuated.
And so this process spins on and on. Forty-five days of
inspections plus another 60 days for Blix to submit his report.
A strong case can be made that the Bush administration ceded far
too much of its latitude for action to the United Nations. Sure, broad
international support is a desirable thing -- but not at any price. By
agreeing to this latest inspections game, the United States has lost
latitude for action. Can't we just declare at the first sign of
recalcitrance or obstruction from Saddam that he is in material breach of
the UN agreement? Not easily, no. As the Weekly Standard explains, the
French and Russians lobbied hard to ensure that such breaches would be
"reported to the Council for assessment." If we jump in to declare
unilaterally that Iraq is not complying, we risk being accused of violating
the resolution that we endorsed.
And yet the president seems as determined as ever to remove
Saddam Hussein. He announces that he isn't playing hide and seek, though
that is what the United States, at Secretary of State Colin Powell's urging,
did agree to. The president has been quietly deploying
American forces to the Gulf and has stated, repeatedly, that Saddam
represents an unacceptable threat to this country.
Why did the president limit his own scope of action by agreeing
to this latest UN charade? Was he placating his secretary of state, the
Europeans or both? Surely President Bush knows that if Saddam remains in
office in 2004, he won't. And just as surely, the president is determined --
for the good of the nation -- to ensure that that isn't the case. Perhaps
the president is banking on Saddam's stupidity and rigidity -- a reliable
bet considering the man's history. Or perhaps he is confident that action
creates its own constituency. Either way, it will be interesting to see how
Bush extricates us, as I'm confident he will, from this UN bog.