- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 (UPI) — On Monday afternoon on his home turf at the State Department, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell answered the question that has been on many minds since his speech in Davos — when exactly did President Bush's peacemaker join his administration's hawks in pushing for war?

At a press conference only hours after chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix presented his first formal assessment of Iraqi cooperation on disarmament, Powell was asked, "Up until a week ago yesterday, you were a strong advocate for a diplomatic solution to the Iraqi situation … what changed your mind?"

The secretary responded on the offensive, claiming credit for the Nov. 8 U.N. resolution mandating Iraqi disarmament and insisting his position had never changed. He then told the gathered audience that Saddam Hussein had failed to take the "diplomatic exit ramps" the resolution afforded him missing chances to build confidence among the weapons inspectors and the international community. Finally, Powell summed up his view as follows: "I'm a great believer in diplomacy and a great believer in finding a peaceful solution, but I also recognize that when somebody will not accept a peaceful solution by doing their part of creating a peaceful solution, one must never rule out the use of force."

In that phrase Powell separated himself from the doves in European capitals and elsewhere who had hoped his counsel would help avert a war the president has pushed for since his "Axis of Evil" State of the Union speech almost exactly a year ago.

Last week his counterparts in Germany and France said Iraq's level of cooperation did not warrant the use of force, a position the secretary characterized as accepting Iraq's passive acceptance of weapons inspections. The weekend before, close to 400,000 people marched in Washington to protest the coming war. In the last week, Democratic Party leaders have called on the president not to exercise the authority their party granted him in their votes last fall to declare war on Iraq without consent of the United Nations.

For these diverse constituencies, Powell's insistence back in August that the president work with and through the United Nations to draft a resolution to return inspectors in lieu of soldiers to Iraq was seen as a victory for peace.

But Powell was never against a war with Iraq a priori, he has always held out the possibility that war may be necessary in order to disarm Saddam Hussein. The United Nations resolution was not for the State Department a way to head off a war with Iraq, but rather a way to move toward one through a process that would not be diplomatically costly to the United States.

In this respect, the only difference in the secretary's message last week and before has been his emphasis.

On Dec. 19 at a press conference responding to Iraq's initial report to the United Nations only 12 days earlier, Powell said, "It should be obvious that the pattern of systematic holes and gaps in Iraq's declaration is not the result of accidents or editing oversights or technical mistakes. These are material omissions that, in our view, constitute another material breach."

Before that, his Nov. 10 Washington Post commentary on the new U.N. inspections regime ended in these ominous words: "The Security Council has confronted Saddam Hussein and his regime with a moment of truth. If they meet it with more lies, they will not escape the consequences."

Those consequences appear to be coming soon.

Powell and other U.S. officials have seized on Blix's report Monday to the U.N. criticizing Iraq's failure to account for anthrax spores and precursor chemicals for VX nerve gas, for example. It is their hope that these failures will embolden the rest of the U.N. Security Council to take action against Iraq — not for these specific infractions but because they are examples of Saddam's intransigence, his failure to make a strategic decision to disarm.

The lesson for the doves here is an interesting one. It may turn out that the only way to avoid war with Saddam would be for the United Nations to approve a war against him. Without such pressure, at least up to this point, the Iraqis have proven unwilling to meet the obligations that enshrine their sovereignty.

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