- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

The last time U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan went to Iraq to resolve a crisis, he characterized Saddam Hussein as someone "I can do business with." In the ensuing negotiations, Saddam talked Mr. Annan out of his hat, pants and spats. It's not just that Mr. Annan got taken, but that he gave away the U.N. weapons inspections willingly, in an attempt to end the sanctions against Iraq. Before his trip to Iraq this week, Mr. Annan announced his judgment that there should be no U.S. attack, only a resumption of the failed inspection process. Nothing not even the threat of wars can make Saddam give up his weapon programs. Mr. Annan's meddling, supposedly to reduce the threat of war, can only raise the risks to us and our allies when we finally move to end Saddam's regime.

For years before the Gulf War, we knew that Iraq was hell-bent on acquiring every sort of weapon chemical, biological and nuclear. Saddam's ambition to govern some fantasy pan-Arab empire depends, in his mind, on obtaining weapons of mass destruction. Had the Israelis not destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, Saddam would probably have had nuclear weapons by 1991. But by then he did have chemical weapons including VX, which is one of the deadliest substances known and biological weapons, including anthrax. In the eight years of war between Iraq and Iran, Saddam used poison gas weapons again and again. He also used them against his own countrymen, rebellious Kurds in northern Iraq. When our counterattack began in 1991, Iraq fired Scud missiles at Israel, intending to draw it into the war and thus destroy our coalition with Arab nations. Were it not for the crude technology of the Scud missiles Iraq had then, it would have succeeded in delivering chemical and biological weapons, forcing Israel to strike back. Fortunately, without the ability to deliver those weapons, the Iraqi strikes were largely ineffective, and our pressure on the Israelis kept them from retaliating. We won't be so lucky this time around.

When the cease-fire was declared in the 1991 Gulf War, the U.N. resolution supporting the supposed cessation of hostilities required that Iraq submit to unrestricted, no-notice inspections of its weapons programs whenever and wherever the U.N. inspectors the United Nations Special Commission, or UNSCOM chose to look. The problem was that when UNSCOM head Ambassador Richard Butler and his crew got there, the Iraqis began throwing obstacles in their path. After several years of this, it became clear to everyone except Mr. Annan that Iraq had to be forced to comply with the inspection requirement.

At the outset of the inspection process, UNSCOM found all sorts of prohibited materials and equipment in Iraq, including improved missile systems, production equipment for chemical and biological weapons and components of nuclear weapons. Before long, they were denied access to many buildings unless they gave prior notice of an inspection, and when they arrived at the appointed time they literally saw the Iraqis running out the back door with the prohibited materials. Still later, they were barred entirely from some sites labeled "presidential palaces." These buildings are all around Iraq some are large enough to be automobile factories and are the most likely places for the Iraqis to be hiding their weapon research and production.

As time passed, Iraqi complaints against economic sanctions reached the ears of the French, Chinese and Russian governments. Despite the fact that the UNSCOM inspections were being thwarted, those nations combined to hamstring the inspectors further. For the French and Russians, their oil interests in Iraq were more important than denying Saddam weapons of mass destruction. For China, its interests were not just economic. Chinese ambitions for power led them to supporting Iraq then, as they do now. (Thanks to Chinese technicians, Iraqi command, control and communications networks have been converted to buried fiber-optic lines, which we can neither eavesdrop on nor destroy easily.) By 1998, when Iraq's gaming of the inspections threatened to draw a military response, Mr. Annan took it upon himself to visit Saddam Hussein to negotiate a way out of the impending crisis.

Gaining the U.N. Security Council's permission for talks but not authority to negotiate an agreement Mr. Annan went to Iraq, and negotiated a seven-point memorandum with Saddam and Tariq Aziz, Iraq's foreign minister. That "memorandum of understanding" while reiterating Iraq's duty to allow unrestricted inspections gave away the right to inspect eight of Saddam's "presidential sites" and committed inspectors to follow other procedures that effectively precluded their effectiveness. When Mr. Annan returned from this debacle, the fate of the inspections had been sealed. Soon after, they stopped entirely. Since then, Saddam's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs have gone ahead at full speed, without inspection or interference.

This time, there can be no compromise. Before he left on this trip, Mr. Annan said that there should be no military action against Iraq. But there is right now a war between us and Iraq. Every day, American and British aircraft fly combat missions to enforce the no-fly zone over part of Iraq. About once a week, those aircraft trade fire with Iraqi radar and missile installations. It is too much to hope that Mr. Annan would feel enough shame at his last performance to prevent him from repeating his imitation of Neville Chamberlain. We must recognize that any new inspection plan will only result in another round of Iraqi games.

We can have no faith in Mr. Annan's ability to resolve this crisis. We will have to remove Saddam from the world's stage once and for all, as we should have in 1991. In this case, by using his influence to delay military action against Saddam, Mr. Annan raises the chances that Iraq will be able to strike us or our allies with the weapons he has developed. It would be better far better for us to strike suddenly, and with such force and violence that the battle is over before these weapons can be used.


Jed Babbin is a former deputy undersecretary of defense in the prior Bush administration.


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