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First, Let's Fight for U.N. Arms Inspections in Iraq

Before Hussein is hit, U.S. should win wide support.

July 15, 2002|STEPHEN H. BAKER | Rear Adm. (Ret.) Stephen H. Baker, a senior advisor at the Center for Defense Information, was Navy chief of staff in Bahrain during the previous U.N. inspection effort and an operations officer during Operation Desert Storm.

It is a good idea when leading a charge to occasionally stop and look behind to see whether anyone is following. President Bush needs to do that now in his march to the "inevitable" invasion of Iraq. He would see some of his staff, a vaguely supportive Congress, a nervous Defense Department and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

That's about it.

The ominous rhetoric issuing from the White House and appearing in the news media gives the certain impression that the road to military action against Baghdad is being prepared for this winter. It's the right road, but why make it an expressway?

Invasion is the wrong immediate aim. What the U.S. needs by the end of this summer is an inspection crisis, not a military crisis.

So far, U.S. support of the demands that Saddam Hussein grant the U.N. Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission access to suspicious sites in Iraq is halfhearted and fatally pessimistic. Washington instead should be pressing to get U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country.

The third meeting this year of an Iraqi delegation with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Hans Blix, executive chairman of the U.N. inspection effort, ended in failure after two days of talks in Vienna this month. The State Department said the administration was not surprised that the talks had failed because Iraqi statements before the meeting foreshadowed the outcome. If any statements undermined U.N. efforts, it was the pervasive U.S. rhetoric on invasion plans, preemptive attack policies and authorization for the CIA to use all means at its disposal to eliminate Hussein.

The Bush administration understands, after Afghanistan, the strength of coalition forces and the power of unified world opinion. If Bush leads support for the U.N. effort, rather than continuing plans for a unilateral military scampaign, he might see a different picture as he glances over his shoulder in marching to Baghdad to demand weapons inspections, or else. Germany, Canada, France, Russia, China, Japan, India and Britain are all represented in the inspection effort. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and all the moderate Arab regimes in the Persian Gulf strongly support it. All would insist that Iraqi failure to comply with U.N. weapons inspections is unacceptable. Hussein would face worldwide pressure to prove that he had not secretly cached hideous chemical and biological weapons for use against his enemies, real or perceived.

Those in Washington who favor taking military action against Hussein do not believe U.N. inspections can be carried out in a way that guarantees an end to Iraq's program to develop weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear. True, the U.N. inspections in the 1990s were plagued by Iraqi concealment, deception, lies and threats, but the inspectors learned a lot, found a lot and destroyed a lot. Despite Iraq's intransigence, that effort destroyed more than 27,000 chemical bombs, artillery shells and rockets, including 30 Scud missile warheads.

The current inspection effort is improved in many important respects. It has twice the international representation, answering objections that the previous effort was dominated by the West. Inspection and monitoring equipment is state-of-the-art and supplemented by color overhead satellite images. More than 230 new inspectors from around the world are being trained to better understand Iraqi culture so communication problems won't interfere with their chief mission, uncovering clandestine weapons.

Inspections cannot offer a 100% guarantee, any more than the Pentagon can ensure a bloodless war or zero collateral damage in a major conflict with Iraq. Yet a resumption of inspections would at least give the world a peek at what threat to global security Iraq really may pose. It is an opportunity to substantiate U.S. claims that Iraq continues to pursue efforts to produce chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and that it could become a supplier to future terrorists.

The possibility of containing Iraq's weapons programs, if they do exist, without the need for a U.S. military strike would be a global crowd-pleaser. At worst, aggressive American demands that U.N. inspectors be allowed into Iraq would help the U.S. gather a coalition for military action against Hussein.

It should at least be tried before Bush sends U.S. guns and young men into Baghdad all on their own.

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