“No sensible person wants to go to war if war can be avoided.” So said Secretary of State Colin Powell on September 15. Next time he is at the White House, he should take a good look around.
The day after Powell made that remark, Saddam Hussein offered unconditionally to permit UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq, after a four-year hiatus. His move, as skeptics quickly noted, was predictable. It split the UN which had been moving toward supporting–or yielding to–Bush’s get-Iraq demand and gave Arab states and France, Russia and China (three-fifths of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, each with soft-on-Saddam governments) reason to call for slowing down the march to war. Just as predictable was the administration’s response, as George W. Bush and his advisers dismissed the offer as an irrelevant ploy. They seemed irritated their express train to war, which was picking up momentum, had encountered a bad piece of track. Rather than slow down and take a look, they decided, let’s ignore the bump, full speed ahead.
But if no sensible person wants a war that can be avoided, why not call Saddam’s bluff? Bush’s supposed aim has been disarmament in Iraq. The administration has sold “regime change”–that semi-polite term for ousting Saddam with military force–as a means for ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. Powell, in the past, has raised the prospect that an aggressive, intrusive, unfettered, and robust weapons inspection program could achieve this, while Vice President Dick Cheney has said it could not. But even though Bush cited Iraqi repression and human rights violations during his speech last week at the UN, the publicly-stated concern driving administration policy has been Saddam’s development of WMD. After all, is Bush proposing war against other nations that treat citizens brutally and do not allow for religious, political and civil freedom? Say, China, Qatar, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Jordan? What makes Saddam different, we’re told, is his development and potential use (which might include sharing) of horrific weaponry.
Inspections address this central point. The Bush administration and its conservative supporters in the punditry, though, have denied this. Testifying before the House armed services committee on September 18, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld–after being interrupted by protesters chanting, “inspections, not war”–said, “The goal isn’t inspections. The goal is disarmament….You can only have inspections when a country is cooperating with you.”
That is not entirely so. Inspections are part of a disarmament campaign, and cooperation is not a black-and-white matter. From 1991 to 1998, UN inspectors faced a tough time in Iraq, for Saddam–big surprise–did not assist them. His government, for example, claimed it had no major biological weapons. Yet the inspectors uncovered such a program. (At the UN, Bush misleadingly attributed this important success to the defection of an Iraqi defector. But the UN inspectors had discovered these bioweapons months before this defection.) The inspectors also learned the Iraqi nuclear weapons program was further along than Saddam’s government had acknowledged. With this information in hand, the inspectors dismantled Iraq’s capacity to enrich uranium–a crucial step in bomb-making.