- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 7 (UPI) — In August of 2002, Vice President Cheney warned of the false comfort weapons inspections would provide in a country that was not committed to disarming with these words: "Many of us are convinced that (Iraqi leader) Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with U.N. resolutions. On the contrary, there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow back in his box. Meanwhile he would continue to plot."

At the time this appeared to be the strongest case made by a senior Bush administration official for going to war and bypassing the United Nations altogether. Yet, on Sept. 12, President Bush challenged the United Nations to enforce the resolutions of its Security Council and a long process began that resulted in a return of the inspectors Cheney warned in August would provide no real proof Iraq was disarming.

This is the dilemma Secretary of State Colin Powell, the advocate and architect of the U.N. strategy on Iraq, had to confront Friday before that body's Security Council. And in the process he sounded an awful lot like the vice president back in August. "If Iraq genuinely wanted to disarm," Powell said, "we would not have to be worrying about setting up means of looking for mobile biological units or any units of that kind. They would be presented to us. We would not need an extensive program to search for and look for underground facilities that we know exist. The very fact that we must make these requests seems to me to show that Iraq is still not cooperating."

France and Russia, which wield vetoes on the United Nations, argue that the fact that Saddam Hussein has at least destroyed 34 al-Samoud 2 missiles and handed over new documents pertaining to its anthrax and VX programs, while making scientists available to weapons inspectors, is evidence that inspections work. So confident was French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin he promised Friday that his country would "not allow a resolution to pass that authorizes the automatic use of force."

The false assurances Cheney warned of are now haunting the United States and the United Kingdom as they face a French and Russian veto on a resolution authorizing a war the American and British leaders clearly believe are in their national security interests.

The problem facing Powell is that the case for war in March is very much the same one Cheney made in August. The case for war rests, as the president said Thursday evening, on Saddam's unwillingness to disarm. The United Nations still does not know what happened to the anthrax, the VX and sarin gas Iraq was required to eliminate in 1991.

The secretary of state had this information in February 2001, but at the time he pushed his U.N. colleagues to refine the collapsing U.N. sanctions aimed at compelling Saddam to disarm in the first place. In that month the secretary embarked on a tour of Arab capitals to hear advice on how to fix the leaking sanctions on Iraq and allow more dual-use items like water pumps to address Iraq's humanitarian crisis. In exchange, Powell had hoped to compel countries like Syria, which had reopened an oil pipeline that still flows to this day with Iraq, to work with the United States to close their border trade with Iraq. Speaking on his plane from Damascus to Brussels, Powell said Saddam has been fairly well hemmed in. "I think a pretty good job has been done of keeping him from breaking out and suddenly showing up one day and saying 'look what I got.' He hasn't been able to do that," Powell told reporters. It begs the question, were the chemical weapons facilities in the satellite photos Powell presented in February of 2003 absent from Iraq in 2001? That is unlikely. So why did Powell like his predecessor Madeleine Albright believe two years ago that Saddam was still in his box?

If the case for war on Iraq rests on the old fact that Saddam has failed to disarm, why did Powell push so hard for the inspections to begin with? The United States could have made the case its making now back in December, when on the 11th of that month Baghdad submitted a report to the United Nations that failed to account for the weapons programs in question today. Faced with the false declaration on Dec. 19 at a news conference he said inspections should intensify in light of Iraq's false declaration.

In the next week, the French and Russians will have to place their cards on the table, as Bush said Thursday night. It is very likely that the United States and the United Kingdom may find their war on Iraq in violation of the U.N. Security Council. Had the president followed Cheney's advice back in August, perhaps this standoff would not have come to this.

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