VIEWS: It is now or never with Baghdad
By Fareed Zakaria
Having gotten the inspectors back into Iraq with unfettered access, the Bush administration had better brace itself for the most likely outcome—they will find nothing.
Don’t get me wrong. Iraq is surely producing weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations and the United States have accumulated powerful evidence of this over the past decade, including testimony from Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, about Iraq’s biological weapons. But Iraq has become increasingly expert at dispersing and hiding these facilities, which are often small enough to fit into a bathroom or a van. And in a country the size of France, finding those few dozen bathrooms and vans is going to be impossible. From 1994 onward, with the exception of finds related to Hussein Kamal’s tips, the inspectors looked at more than 700 sites and got nothing. And for the past four years Iraq has been inspection-free, giving it time to devise new ways to hide its wares.
Saddam Hussein understands this advantage. Brookings’s Kenneth Pollack, the author of “The Gathering Storm,” notes that Iraq’s leader has not moved any of his Army divisions, is not encircling Baghdad and is not building fortifications: “Saddam is not preparing for war; he’s preparing to derail America’s plans diplomatically.”
Earlier this month Saddam gave a remarkable interview—his first in 12 years—to an Egyptian weekly. The interviewer asked him, “Mr. President, do you think that time is working in your favor, or against you?” Saddam replied, “No doubt time is working for us. We have to buy some more time and the American-British coalition will disintegrate.” The interviewer also asks why Saddam is handling this crisis differently from the gulf war, implying that he is making concessions now when he made none in 1990. Saddam replied, “Politics is a science and in any science there are experiments... Making mistakes is a human act and correcting them is a human act that could be improved. No one among us is infallible.” Saddam has learned his lesson and is planning to “cooperate” for months, maybe years. If he does so, not only will the momentum for genuine disarmament and war slip away, Russia and France will begin clamoring that UN economic sanctions against him be lifted.
To stop events going down this road, the administration must force a crisis. Its first opportunity will come right after Dec. 8. By that day Iraq has to provide a complete declaration relating to its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq will likely produce an expanded version of the hefty document it has given the United Nations in the past, called a “full, final and complete declaration” of its weapons programs. Of course, like its previous ones, this declaration will likely be neither full, final nor complete. Washington’s task will be to prove this to the world.
It isn’t as easy as it sounds. American evidence, gathered from the sky, is largely circumstantial—photographs of buildings that appear to be chemical-weapons factories and such. Today those buildings are probably either empty or manufacturing baby aspirin. (They could, in a few days, be turned into chemical-weapons facilities.) Still, it’s worth showing as detailed evidence as possible. More important, Washington should declassify and release the testimony of Iraqi defectors, who have given detailed accounts of Saddam’s weapons programs.
But a false declaration will not by itself be sufficient grounds for war. This was part of the compromise that got the administration the 15-0 vote in the Security Council. Iraq also has to fail to “comply and cooperate” with the inspections process. Showing that is Washington’s real challenge.
The White House has decided upon a smart strategy. After Dec. 8 it will create a series of tests designed to determine whether or not the Iraqi regime really means to cooperate fully and disarm itself. It will focus on three Ps—people, places and paper. Based on Washington’s intelligence, the inspectors will ask to see specific facilities, interview specific Iraqi scientists and be given specific documents. And Iraq will have to comply within a concentrated period of time—probably a few weeks after Dec. 8. Washington’s hope is that in one of these many tests, Iraq will reveal that it is not cooperating and thus pave the way for military action. The inspectors will not find weapons but they might well find noncompliance.
Time is short. If events do not come to a head soon after Dec. 8, the pressure for action will dissipate and the weather will make conflict impossible until next fall. And you cannot replay this movie. America’s Arab allies like Qatar and Kuwait will not find credible Washington’s renewed bellicosity and will not stick their necks out yet again, the inspections process will have become more political and France and Russia will have gained support in the Security Council. At home, the continuing uncertainty, high oil prices and low business investment will cripple the economy. The administration has set its course. It’s now or never. —Newsweek