- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

A red herring? "Something that draws attention away from the central issue. From its use to distract hunting dogs from the trail."

When President Bush went before the United Nations, confronted with demands from America's allies and congressional Democrats that he once more subordinate U.S. policy toward Iraq to "a regime of inspection," he faced the classic red herring.

More than a decade of attempts to inspect and prohibit Saddam Hussein from manufacturing and threatening to use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) presents overwhelming evidence for that conclusion.

That history is one of repeatedly underestimating the progress of Saddam's efforts to produce WMD to dominate the Persian Gulf and half the world's oil reserves. The first instance, of course, was with the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency. In the late 1970s, it concluded he was pursuing only nuclear power with a French reactor. Yet there is general agreement now that the Israeli bombing of that facility in 1981 set back by years a nuclear weapons program. U.N. inspectors later admitted they were shown "the wrong floors."

Again, after Saddam's defeat in the Gulf War, inspectors admitted that they found evidence they had underestimated the weapon's lead time by as much as two years. They also discovered Saddam had pursued a double program of trying to process uranium fuel. Now, the CIA has warned while it might take as long as five years for Saddam to produce a bomb, if he were able to acquire fuel from abroad it might be a matter of months. German authorities, among others, presently are prosecuting firms that evaded the U.N. sanctions to sell Saddam needed weapons materiel. Nuclear fuel escaping former Soviet bloc controls is a constant concern of American policymakers. And the United States has recently revealed it blocked a sale of special hardware used in processing nuclear fuel.

That history of inspection in Iraq is one of highly politicized log-rolling in the United Nations. Although the United Nations itself does not have adequate technical competence for inspections, its reliance on the United States has been challenged among Saddam's apologists as illicit U.N. collaboration with the CIA. After a public row over exchanges between CIA and the UNMOVIC (United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission), formed in December 1999 to replace the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) which Saddam expelled, UNMOVIC has cobbled together its own technology. It receives information from commercial satellite imagery comparing a database of 15,000 items for changes at sites inspectors previously visited. But satellites cannot see through roofs

In choosing a new head of the proposed U.N. inspection team, Secretary-General Kofi Annan nominated more than two dozen candidates before he could find one acceptable to the U.N. Security Council. That candidate was Hans Blix, the Swedish U.N. civil servant who headed the U.N. Atomic Energy Agency when it failed to see Saddam's weapons-making capacity in the 1970s. Two years ago, Mr. Blix told a disarmament magazine that he did not think Iraq was trying to rearm. Recently, Mr. Blix has been more circumspect about the possibilities of Saddam rearming and publicly rejected Baghdad's recent offers of a negotiated inspection. Baghdad has responded in kind: Iraqi Vice President Ramadan told Al-Raifdain newspaper on Aug. 28 that Mr. Blix's response to Iraq's offer to negotiate new conditions for the inspection was "without tact or manners." Mr. Ramadan said, "He [Mr. Blix] has no right to answer because he is a bureaucrat appointed by the U.N. secretary-general, and Iraq's letter was addressed to the latter and not to a new spy."

Yet, even the fact that past inspections repeatedly underestimated Saddam's capacity to move toward WMD, that past inspections have not found evidence revealed later, that defectors have warned the West of Saddam's continued attempts at acquiring WMD they did not know about, are in the final analysis irrelevant.

Saddam is a megalomaniac, a psychopath who has murdered members of his own family, who has used chemical weapons against his own people and against the Iranians, who plotted to assassinate a former U.S. president, George Herbert Walker Bush, who has for more than a decade lied and obfuscated about his intentions and violated the terms of his capitulation in the Gulf War and his agreements with the United Nations.

If Saddam were to agree tomorrow to "intrusive" inspections that could be enforced, the problem would remain: The world would still be faced with a regime whose whole history is as a continuing threat to its neighbors, and eventually the world, and which could not be trusted not to attempt another rearmament.

That is why Mr. Bush has enunciated what must be the real goal of American policy regime change.

Sol Sanders is a veteran newsman and foreign policy analyst.

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