Saturday, October 9, 2004

A report from U.S. weapons inspectors says much that has been known many months, though more definitively than before: Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) when invaded by the U.S. and its coalition partners.

What the report also says that is new — and that tends to support the decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power — is that he fully intended to reconstitute programs to develop nuclear and other weapons once U.N. sanctions were removed. And not only were those sanctions in a perilous state prior to the war; Saddam had figured out how to dodge them by bribing public officials or business executives in such countries as Russia, France and China and even United Nations officials.

Saddam’s weapons-securing motives, according to the report, had largely to do with his fears of his neighbors. He worried about an attack from Iran, for instance. But it should not be forgotten this man was full of hatred for the U.S., a genocidal friend of terrorists and given to inexplicable recklessness.

That recklessness may have had something to do with his downfall. Before the war, there was ample reason to believe Saddam had the weapons. When U.N. inspectors arrived the second time, he refused fully to account for what happened to weapons he was once known to have had. On top of reports from top intelligence agencies in Europe and the United States that he still had the weapons, that failure to tell all seemed final confirmation he remained armed.

It is sometimes forgotten in debate over the war today that Saddam would never even have agreed to admit the inspectors if it not for a U.N. resolution threatening drastic consequences if he were not wholly forthcoming. He would again have been in the driver’s seat if he could have gotten out of this tough spot without complying with the resolution. It looked as if he just might when the United States did not get the U.N. Security Council backing for the consequences sought. Those three bribed permanent members — Russia, France and China — did not stick with the United States (some of whose own companies were bribed, too).

An argument then — and an argument still made by John Kerry and John Edwards — is that Saddam could have been contained simply by keeping these U.N. inspectors on the case. But if Saddam had once more demonstrated U.N. resolutions were nothing but bluffs, it is likely he would eventually have found ways to either work around the inspectors or get them out of the country.

Meanwhile, three Security Council nations — look again at who was bribed — were working to lessen the sanctions’ reach. There, by the way, goes another Kerry argument, that the reason these countries did not support the United States was failed U.S. diplomacy.

The person who spilled the beans about Saddam’s weapons ambitions is an expert on Saddam: the man himself. He reportedly agreed to talk because he thereby got a chance to have some of his own version of his dictatorship publicized.

Saddam’s words enable us to know the danger he posed had not disappeared because his WMDs had disappeared. In his wily brain, that was only temporary, and could be fixed by deals with the unscrupulous.

Jay Ambrose is director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers.

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