Secretary of State Colin Powell convinced me. I am ready to bomb Iraq and wipe out the terrorists. Allow me to explain.
It’s not that an invasion and occupation is justified at this time. Powell’s presentation at the United Nations made a strong case…for the proposition that Saddam Hussein is a deceitful SOB who probably does want to preserve whatever sort of mass-killing weapons programs he can hide from UN inspectors. Let’s accept as a given that Saddam is concealing such programs and not fully cooperating with the inspections program. Is the most effective response a massive US military action aimed at toppling his murderous regime and one that leaves Washington responsible for what comes next?
George W. Bush, Powell, and the rest of the gang can argue that the United States merely will be enforcing Resolution 1441, which compels Saddam to give up his weapons of mass destruction. But such enforcement ought to be the prerogative of the United Nations Security Council. If Saddam is in violation of one of its resolutions, the Security Council ought to debate and determine the “serious consequences” it promised to deliver in 1441. One option might be to beef up inspections. Send in several hundred more inspectors. Hell, maybe a thousand. Use the intelligence information Powell shared at the UN for more in-your-face inspections. Threaten the selective use of force at sites where the Iraqis might not be cooperating. The mission: drive the Iraqis nuts, as they try to evade and thwart inspections. The more time and energy they devote to concealment and evasion, the more their WMD program will be disrupted. The previous inspections prevented Iraq from making large strides in the WMD business for seven years.
Certainly, such an option has risks. It cannot guarantee an Iraq completely devoid of WMD. Perhaps Saddam will still find a way to develop and hide horrific weapons. But this risk has to be weighed against the possible costs of an invasion–which might have to be a unilateral strike–and a subsequent occupation. The question needs to be asked, how significant will it be if Saddam, in the face of a rigorous, intrusive, aggressive inspections program, does manage to preserve a WMD cache and a hindered capability to produce additional arms? To answer that query, one must address the issue Powell ducked at the United Nations: is Saddam a threat to the United States, its interests, or its allies?
Not a potential threat, but an actual threat warranting a full smackdown, with or without a UN green-light. There are plenty of potential threats in the region. Iran and Syria both have nasty weapons and the governments of each have histories of hobnobbing with terrorists to whom they could slip chemical weapons. Why does Saddam deserve all the attention? Last October, CIA chief George Tenet–who sat behind Powell at the UN–sent a letter to the Senate intelligence committee that reported CIA analysts had concluded Saddam was unlikely to mount a terrorist attack against the United States, unless he felt threatened by Washington. Days ago, a CIA official told The New York Times that the agency had not altered this judgment. At the United Nations, Powell did not offer a compelling argument that Iraq poses an immediate and direct threat. (In fact, during his State of the Union speech, Bush implicitly acknowledged that Saddam does not present a right-now danger when he said, “ if this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions…would come too late.”) Sure, Powell painted a grim portrait of a brutal regime that might still possess usable chemical and biological weapons and that may well be angling to create a nuclear weapon (apparently without yet getting too close). But in the absence of firm evidence that Saddam does maintain a deployable WMD arsenal and has a reason and ability to use it, why send in the Marines now?