- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

LONDON Today, Colin Powell journeys to the U.N. Security Council on the most crucial mission of his tenure as secretary of state. Mr. Powell must present sufficiently compelling evidence to convince a skeptical Security Council to authorize strong measures, including force, to finish the disarmament of all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Absent proof positive, President Bush will not win international support for waging war. More importantly, however, he could lose support for winning the peace.
Regardless of what the Security Council decides, the United States and Britain, supported by at least 10 partners, are determined to disarm Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, public opinion in America over war against Iraq remains divided and is decidedly opposed in Europe.
There are powerful reasons for removing Saddam. Iraq has been in "material breach" of U.N. resolutions since the Gulf War ended a dozen years ago. In late 1998, Saddam evicted U.N. weapons inspectors. Congress then passed the Iraqi Liberation Act, calling for a "regime change" in Baghdad.
In its wisdom, Congress did not authorize the use of force, so, in essence, the act was political rhetoric, not actionable policy. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Iraq's flagrant disregard of U.N. resolutions hardly arose. Indeed, not until after September 11th and the al Qaeda attacks in New York and Washington would Iraq come into the administration's gun sights.
By the end of 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom had achieved the remarkably speedy expulsion of the Taliban from Afghanistan. With that success, the administration began pressing for regime change in Baghdad. Last summer, it seemed that the Bush White House was prepared to go it alone against Iraq and force a regime change. The White House general counsel concluded that the president already had sufficient authority from existing U.N. resolutions and as commander-in-chief to order military force to topple Iraq's leadership. A fierce internal debate followed. Through the efforts of Mr. Powell and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the president was persuaded to seek U.N. and congressional approval before resorting to force.
In a deft address to the United Nations last September, Mr. Bush challenged that body to become relevant or lapse into a modern-day, toothless League of Nations. The Security Council later voted an astonishing 15-0 in favor of Resolution 1441 that threatened "severe consequences" if Saddam did not fully disarm. In moving through the United Nations and Congress, the administration's strategic rationale shifted from regime change to disarmament. Therein lies a trap.
Although Iraq is required to prove it has disarmed, convincing evidence to the contrary is needed to remove any doubts. Already, U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix and the U.N.-based International Atomic Energy Agency's Mohammed ElBaradei have given Iraq a clean bill of health regarding nuclear programs. Without unambiguous proof of Iraqi violations and deceptions or provable ties to al Qaeda, the Security Council is unlikely to authorize force. Despite Mr. Powell's well-deserved reputation, his task is daunting. So suppose ambiguity and uncertainty persist. Beyond attacking Iraq, what else must the United States do?
In a perfect world, a stronger and factually unassailable case could have been made on three counts. Saddam has so violated international norms of behavior that his record of atrocious governance alone warrants removal. Saddam remains in gross violation of international law and U.N. resolutions. And, while there may be no absolute proof of Iraqi stores of chemical and biological weapons, who would doubt that left unhindered, that is exactly where Saddam would go once sanctions were lifted. Of course, despite Saddam's continued disregard for international law, critics still would decry America acting as the world's policeman. Too bad.
Certainly, a quick, overwhelming and relatively casualty-free war will overcome much criticism. But anything short of that could create a political firestorm. And, with due deference to the hundreds of thousands of American and other troops putting their lives on the line in a just cause, winning the war may not prove as difficult as winning a lasting peace. Hence, as war grows closer, the administration must accelerate its planning for the peace.
The Security Council may not vote favorably on a second resolution with or without teeth. But the United Nations must be engaged in the war's aftermath. Here, a resolution committing the United Nations to a lead role in the rebuilding and reconstruction of a viable post-war Iraq is vital. That need not be done immediately. However, it cannot be deferred for too long.
A failure to set the right aims could lead to a tragic reversal of fortune. We will win the war. But we could lose the peace. John Milton presaged this predicament centuries earlier, when he wrote in "Paradise Lost" in a different context: "Who overcomes by force hath overcome only half his foe." Something to think about.

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