- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 15, 2004

While John Kerry derides President Bush’s record on proliferation as being one of “too little, too late,” the administration has achieved some important successes in ending rogue-state nuclear weapons programs in Iraq and Libya. In the case of Iraq, Mr. Bush ( after unsuccessfully trying to win support from the U.N. Security Council) led an international coalition in taking military action. Mr. Kerry, after voting to authorize force, turned harshly critical of the president’s conduct of the war after the conflict actually began. The Massachusetts senator’s preference in such matters is to invest more responsibility upon the International Atomic Energy Agency — an institution that has failed time and time again.

According to Mr. Kerry, the president rushed the nation to war last year based upon wildly exaggerated claims about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program. But Mr. Kerry made fundamentally the same arguments as Mr. Bush in his Oct. 9, 2002, speech supporting the use of force. And the Senate Intelligence Committee noted in its report last month: “Iraq had kept its cadre of nuclear weapons personnel trained and in positions that could keep their skills intact for eventual use in a reconstituted nuclear program.”

On June 23 (five days before the transfer of sovereignty to the new Iraqi government) the Departments of Energy and Defense completed the removal of nearly two tons of low-enriched uranium and approximately 1,000 highly radioactive items from Saddam’s former nuclear complex at Tuwaitha to U.S. facilities near Oak Ridge, Tenn. The move was made to prevent the material from falling into the hands of terrorists or criminal profiteers.

Most reasonable people would regard this as a good thing. But this development has not been well-received at the IAEA — the very U.N. body Mr. Kerry wants to grant more responsibility for overseeing nuclear disarmament. IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei suggested that the removal of the material could undermine his organization’s efforts to verify that the new, post-Saddam Iraqi government has ended the nuclear weapons program.

Given the IAEA’s unfortunate history in Iraq, this complaint verges on the absurd. Baghdad learned back in the 1970s that it could conceal a nuclear program from the IAEA by pretending to cooperate with inspectors. The IAEA failed to detect an Iraqi Manhattan Project-style effort to develop nuclear weapons during the 1970s and 1980s.

According to a research paper written by Steven Dolley and Paul Leventhal of the Nuclear Control Institute, this succession of policy failures continued after 1991 Gulf War. In 1992-93, senior IAEA officials (including then-Director-General Hans Blix) erroneously asserted that the Iraqis had not tampered with equipment under IAEA safeguards. When Saddam’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, defected to Jordan in 1995 and revealed he had led a secret crash program to build a crude nuclear weapon, the IAEA was embarrassed once again. When one adds to this the IAEA’s inability to detect North Korea’s secret program for years and its inability to thwart Iran’s nuclear designs, there is good reason to be skeptical about giving this agency more responsibility.

Yet when it comes to Libya (which has shut down its own nuclear weapons program and turned the leftover material to the United States), Mr. Kerry suggests that this foreign-policy achievement will be suspect without the IAEA’s approval. He told the Arab American Institute in reply to a questionnaire that it is “particularly important” that Libya’s disarmament “be done within the international non-proliferation-treaty regime and using the IAEA, the multilateral bases of international law and cooperation.”

In his response to AAI, Mr. Kerry subtly attempts to falsify the historical record to make his case against the Bush approach to disarming rogue states. Even though Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi has acknowledged that witnessing Saddam’s fall helped persuade him to end his nuclear plans, Mr. Kerry attributes this success to Kerry-style engagement without force: “If the president can put aside his go it alone unilateralism to engage with a longtime enemy like Qaddafi, why are the ideologues in this administration so hesitant to negotiate with North Korea to end their nuclear weapons programs?”

In sum, Mr. Bush can point to concrete achievements in ending Iraq and Libya’s nuclear plans. Mr. Kerry’s response is to second-guess the president’s timing, suggest that he is acting in bad faith and pretend that his successes are due to Kerry-style engagement and multilateralism.

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