- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2002

The debate in Congress over the resolution to authorize the president to use force against Iraq was about judgment and not about fact. Most Republicans, supported by many Democrats, judged Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction to be a "clear and present danger." Therefore, based on the facts as seen, it was a matter of urgency to compel Saddam to submit to the 16 U.N. Resolutions he has ignored and disarm or face a war that he will lose.
A lesser number of Democrats, supported by a handful of Republicans, asked what was the rush? Based on the same facts, they did not judge a similar immediacy in using force to redress the Iraqi threat. The assessment provided by the director of central intelligence seemed to support that judgment.
To those with good memories, this division is reminiscent of President John F. Kennedy's first foray into Vietnam. In the fall of 1961, Kennedy dispatched Gen. Maxwell Taylor and adviser Walt Rostow on a fact-finding mission. When they presented their findings, Kennedy listened attentively to the widely opposite judgments and then asked whether the pair had been to the same country.
To understand where future judgment and the prospect for war are headed, one must look several months back and several months ahead.
In January, triumphant with the Taliban's extraordinary collapse in Afghanistan after a short military campaign, President George Bush used his State of the Union address to identify three states comprising the "axis of evil" and Saddam Hussein as the first bull's eye of that group.
War was in the air. The judgment was that Saddam would either use or provide these horrible weapons to people who would. As the year progressed, the administration, advised by the White House counsel, judged that the president had the authority and legitimacy from existing U.N. resolutions to use military force without the advice and consent of Congress or consultation with the United Nations. Pundits on the right were calling for a war no later than the fall to end Saddam's regime.
As that debate flared, for a short time, the most admired and popular member of the administration, Secretary of State Colin Powell, was the target for critics on both sides of the political spectrum who drew from the same facts.
The right accused Mr. Powell of insubordination in seemingly obstructing the president's penchant for unilateral action and demanded he be fired. The left judged Mr. Powell as insufficiently insubordinate and urged that he resign. Fortunately, nothing happened.
By summer's end, the president changed his course. Congress was asked and has approved the resolution to use force. And the United Nations Security Council will consider new resolutions to compel Iraq to disarm all of its weapons of mass destruction. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has been deploying its forces and material to the Persian Gulf should force be needed. Some believe an attack could be initiated as early as December.
What happens next? The Security Council no doubt will take action perhaps by the end of October. Whether that action will be sufficiently strong to force Saddam's compliance remains to be seen. But, if there is any chance of avoiding a war, inspectors almost certainly will be sent to Iraq. Unlike earlier inspectors who were seconded to the U.N. by respective member states, these work directly for the international body and the Security Council.
Hans Blix, chief U.N. weapons inspector, says that about 10 days will be needed to transport the inspectors and their equipment to Iraq and to set up shop. Then, about 60 days will be needed for preliminary assessment of where Iraq stands regarding these weapons. That schedule gets to the end of the year.
Any attack, if one were ordered, would presumably start no later than the end of January to avoid battle in the heat of the summer when protective clothing to defend against chemical and biological weapons would hamper operations.
Mr. Blix and his inspectors, if they do go, will either find indications of these weapons or they will not. Iraq will either cooperate or not. But, no matter, the facts of whatever Mr. Blix uncovers may not make much difference in future judgments of what the United States does.
"Hawks" will argue that is because Saddam is good at deception. If there is evidence of weapons, that is sufficient grounds for force to complete the disarmament. Similarly, unless Iraqi cooperation is unconditional, and it most likely will not be, that fact will be taken as a powerful sign Saddam is hiding weapons.
The judgment therefore will be for war. If you don't believe that prediction ask the London bookmakers what their bet is. Facts are important. But, in this case, it looks like minds have been made up.

Harlan Ullman is with the CNA Corp. and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, two Washington policy institutes. This article is based on his latest book, "Unfinished Business: Afghanistan, the Middle East and Beyond Defusing the Dangers that Threaten America's Security."


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