- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

Here he goes again. One more time, Bill Clinton has turned over the decision on the use of American military power to a dictator commanding enemy forces.

The president of the United States has assured Saddam Hussein, the most brutal and daring of the Middle East tyrants, that the United States will not use force to punish him for having openly destroyed the single most important condition for accepting Iraq's surrender in the war against America and the United Nations in 1990.

The condition was that the United Nations be allowed, without hinder, to inspect all of Iraq's military facilities to prevent Saddam from resuming his hidden prewar drive to produce nuclear, chemical and biological bombs and the missiles to carry them.

From this condition hung another, essential to enforcing the peace an embargo against trade with the world until he proved he no longer had plans and plants designed to give him the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that are now only about a year from reality. With them, he expects to rule the Middle East and challenge the U.S. forever.

So we have to face it. Saddam has triumphed. A decade after he lost the war, the fears he would win the military and political fruits of peace now are realized as fact. His defiance of the U.S. and his tearing up the peace conditions make him stronger politically and in emotional appeal throughout the Muslim world than since he went to war by occupying Kuwait. He and his supporters everywhere are understandably contemptuous of a country that cannot enforce the conditions of peace on a militarily defeated dictator. Countries on Saddam's list of future war targets are taking note and so is the entire U.N.

It is the greatest, and perhaps fatal, setback to the U.N.'s ability to enforce a peace. It came a few days after the U.N. was preening itself at a millennium celebration whose purpose or worth remains vague. Saddam had been throwing political and physical body blocks at the U.N. inspection teams for most of their decade of existence. Still the inspectors managed to keep a leash on what he could do without their presence. So three years ago he effectively ended inspection, by harassment and ouster.

The U.N.'s response, with U.S. approval, was to wipe out the teams under Richard Butler and set up a new and far weaker inspection system. Mr. Butler's expertise and political courage made him hated by Saddam and the top tier of U.N. bureaucrats, so they got rid of him.

When recently the new inspectors demanded by Saddam said they were ready to go in, after months of training, Saddam told them and the U.N. to be damned the inspectors could not enter Iraq.

He also banned U.N. humanitarian specialists supposed to see just how much the embargo's damage to civilians was Saddam-made. He has stockpiled military parts and foreign luxuries by selling $30 billion in oil abroad, even exporting food and medicines.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made the announcement at the U.N. of the about-face in American policy on using force to save inspection. No advance notice to the American public. She said Saddam was still "in the box," but of course it is really the U.S. sitting there. American and other diplomats still occasionally make faces at Saddam. Their masks fool no one, particularly themselves and Saddam.

Russia leads the Saddam clique. Washington lets Moscow get away with secret shipments to Saddam. It is not the embargo sanctions that infuriated Saddam. It was the inspections that could detect secret military help and alert the world to his steady move toward the weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Butler says the only way to reverse Saddam's progress toward the weaponry he covets is for Washington to tell Russia that its support for Saddam is unacceptable.

(We may have had visits from Iraq already in advance of its achievement of nuclear, chemical or biological power. In a new book, "Study of Revenge" [AIE press], Laurie Mylroie, one of America's leading experts on Iraq, comes to a startling conclusion. She contends the wave of terrorism directed at the U.S. that began with the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993 was not, as we have been so often told, the work of some loose gangs of terrorists operating outside control of any government and therefore impossible for America to detect and destroy. She believes and explains why in fascinating detail that the attacks are part of ongoing warfare by terrorism conducted by Saddam against the U.S. since the invasion of Kuwait. There is a mountain of information about Saddam and his ways in this book.)

If there are no inspectors in Iraq, armed with high technique and high morale against his constant harassment, how will the U.S. find out whether Saddam is on the very verge of producing the weapons of mass death or already has them? Will he send the next president an e-mail saying Iraq is producing those weapons of mass destruction, as bombs or in satchels, and what do you intend to do about it?

Last year, Mr. Clinton said he would not use troops against Serbian forces if they attacked Kosovo. With that promise in his pocket, Slobodan Milosevic ordered his own troops to attack. That and the NATO air blitz turned Kosovo into a blaze of horror. It will keep burning.

Now the administration is playing a reprise of the funeral march of appeasement before Mr. Clinton can toss responsibility for dealing with Saddam to a new president and let him try where the Clinton administration utterly failed. Neither candidate has graced voters with insights into how he would try to handle Iraq, if at all.



A.M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of the New York Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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