- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 (UPI) — The problem with Secretary of State Colin Powell's United Nations speech, and the reason why so many members of the Security Council refused to be convinced by his satellite photos and bugged telephone calls, was that Powell answered the wrong question.

Powell thought he was supposed to assemble a watertight case that would prove that Saddam Hussein and his regime were cheating the U.N. inspectors by playing hide-and-seek with their chemical and biological weapons and ongoing nuclear development program. In this, Powell largely succeeded.

Any fair-minded judge would conclude, and the U.N.'s chief inspector Hans Blix had already said, that Saddam Hussein was not complying with the U.N. Resolution 1441 demanding that Iraq come clean and demonstrate full compliance with the U.N. demand for disarmament.

But that was not the question that Powell really needed to answer.

The case that France and Russia and China, and much public opinion in the United States as well as Europe wanted to hear, was why do we need to go to war? Have we not won already? Is not Saddam Hussein already contained by the U.N. inspections and by the new watchfulness of the international community?

As France said, if the Bush administration needs more reassurance that Saddam Hussein can be effectively disarmed and controlled without war, why not just double or triple the number of inspectors? And as Russia said, if the White House needs more reassurance, here is an offer of Russian spy planes to beef up the monitoring over the skies of Iraq?

Powell made the case that Saddam runs one of the world's most abominable regimes, that he maintains links with all kinds of terrorist groups, probably including al Qaida, and that he constantly and cunningly cheats the inspectors. Powell did not make the case that this requires a war.

The case is not that difficult to make.

We know from the last round of inspections in the 1990s that there is absolutely no guarantee that they will find everything. The inspectors were searching Iraq thoroughly for three years, and it was not until Saddam's son-in-law defected in 1994 that he steered the inspectors to the disused chicken farm that hid the entry to the biological warfare labs that they found one of Saddam's secret crown jewels.

Three years of inspections had failed miserably — and Saddam now knows how the inspectors work and has had years to perfect his new hiding places.

If France and Russia are so confident that inspections will contain Saddam, the burden on proof is on them — in the teeth of the available historical evidence.

The second argument against relying on inspections in that they will have to go on for years, and the will of the international community to maintain and permanent and costly inspection regime is a lot weaker than the will and endurance of Saddam Hussein to outlast the U.N.

We all know what happened last time, as those same U.N. Security Council members who now call for more inspections were last time calling for an easing of sanctions so that French and Russian oil companies could dip their hands into the Iraqi honey pot. If we rely now on inspections, then in one or two or three years time as the United Nations gets strapped for funds and Lukoil and Total-Elf-Fina start pressing for those oil concessions once more, the inspection regime will soften as Saddam's nasty hardware accumulates.

The third argument against relying on inspections is that to enforce them, we will have to maintain the U.N. sanctions against Iraq, and the sanctions have been a public relations disaster. Most of the Arab world, and a great deal of decent and compassionate public opinion in the United States and Europe, believe that sanctions have killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi babies.

There is no point in protesting that the U.N. sanctions allow Saddam to sell oil, so long as the funds are used to buy food, medical and humanitarian supplies and clearly civilian goods. There is no point protesting that Saddam quite happily lets Iraqi babies die in order to make a propaganda point against the sanctions regime. There is not even much point in protesting that some of the countries that argue hardest for inspections and sanctions are home to companies that have been quietly side-stepping the sanctions in order to sell to Saddam. The fact is that sanctions are unpopular, leaky and very hard to sustain.

That is the case that Colin Powell should have made against Iraq last week. It is the case that will now have to be made after Hans Blix's next report on Feb. 14. It is a case that ought to sway some crucial elements of public opinion, even if France, Russia and China will be making their decisions not on the merits of any argument but on very different calculations of commercial self-interest, giving George Bush a black eye, and what's in it for me. But it is still a case that the world needs to hear.

(Walker's World — an in-depth look at the people and events shaping global geopolitics — is published every Sunday and Wednesday.)

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