For a brief moment one could almost believe that the US march toward war with Iraq had paused. The United Nations inspection regime was up and running, and the Iraqi government had produced 12,000 pages of documents by the December 8 deadline.
But the Administration spoiled our day. The President dutifully pledged that the Administration would comment on the Iraqi document “only after we have thoroughly examined it,” but then various heavyweights were busily floating allegations that the Iraqis were lying. Most improbable, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer spun a gauzy web of guilt around the statement of the chief of Iraq’s weapons program that Baghdad had attempted to develop a nuclear bomb in 1991 but abandoned the program.
In their voluminous report the Iraqis seemed bent on flooding the process–to delay but also to cleverly reveal “everything,” that is, embarrassing material about companies in various countries, including the United States, that had supplied Baghdad with components for its weapons programs.
Whatever Iraq’s intentions, the inspection process under Security Council Resolution 1441–itself heavily weighted toward US demands–must be given sufficient time and resources to work. The world must know whether Iraq is actively developing weapons of mass destruction, and the inspection process is the best, most lawful way of finding out. Not incidentally, it also sets an important precedent in international law that could be used to deter future wars. Finally, only a clear finding by the inspectors that Iraq does harbor weapons of mass destruction could justify military action, and then only if the international community determines that this is the appropriate response.
If it is to work in good faith with the UN, the United States should not interfere with or seek to undercut or discredit the inspections. The Administration has already been sniping at Hans Blix, chief of UNMOVIC, seeking to undermine his credibility. It is also propagating the idea that only information from defectors is useful–as if the inspectors’ effort is worthless–and pushing for a speedup. The inspectors must be allowed enough time to do their job fully–a year or more, if necessary. Iraq poses no immediate threat to the peace, and the inspections process itself is a deterrence to Iraqi WMD programs.
If it wants to help, the Administration can immediately turn over to the UN any intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs it has. After months of empty claims, it’s more than likely there is no such evidence. For if US intelligence could detect an illegal uranium-enrichment program in hermetically sealed North Korea, it ought to be able to provide similar proof of a clandestine program in a much more open Iraq that was thoroughly inspected for seven years.
Those who believe the Bush Administration hasn’t made the case for war–and their number is growing as Americans inform themselves–should oppose its attempts to hasten or undermine the inspection effort. Any premature, unilateral military action will put America on the wrong side of international law and fuel the growing belief in the rest of the world, especially the Islamic one, that US motives are imperialistic–that Bush II’s vision is of a New World Order dominated by the United States of America.