THE REAL CASE AGAINST IRAQ



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Last Updated

05 Feb 2003

Source: Wall Street Journal, February 5, 2003

COMMENTARY

The Real Case Against Iraq

By WILLIAM S. COHEN

Today, Secretary of State Colin Powell will make the case for action against Iraq that Mr. Bush promised in his State of the Union address. The president's detailed presentation of weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein did not account for is not new. Repetition of the obvious, however, does not diminish its validity.

Linking Iraq to al Qaeda and the export of terrorism has clearly been an effort by Mr. Bush to persuade skeptics that the international community can defer exercising its final option no longer. But although the ties to al Qaeda may be real, they are also more elusive and resistant to proof in the court of public opinion. Thus, in seeking to make a more compelling case, the president may have made it more complicated.

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Mr. Bush is correct in insisting the burden of proof remains on Iraq to account for the horrific weapons it has produced. This is clear under more than a dozen U.N. Security Council Resolutions adopted since 1991, many of which unequivocally declared Iraq to be in violation of its obligations under international law. Resolution 1441, which relaunched U.N. inspections, states that Iraq's noncooperation with today's inspectors would constitute a "further material breach" and warns of serious consequence for "continued violations of its obligations."

For Mr. Bush's skeptics, Mr. Blix's recent report highlights the unconditional requirement for Iraq to account for large quantities of banned materials it once had and may still have, a few well-known examples of which include: hundreds of tons of the deadly nerve agent VX; thousands of liters of the biological agent anthrax; and thousands of chemical rockets. At a minimum, Iraq is required to offer evidence of when, where and how these banned materials were destroyed. It has made no effort to do so.

While the December 1998 attack on over 100 targets by attack aircraft, bombers, and cruise missiles set back Iraq's programs two years by destroying key facilities and killing a number of important personnel, Iraq has used the intervening four years to rebuild facilities and reconstitute its weapons programs. This includes, as Mr. Blix details in his report:

- Two missile facilities that today are building banned missiles and providing them to the Iraqi military.

- Illegal imports, as recently as December 2002, of 380 rocket engines usable in one of these illegal missile programs, as well as illegal imports of missile fuel and guidance systems.

- Reconstruction of illegal missile factory equipment previously destroyed by U.N. inspectors.

At the very time that Iraq was importing missile engines in violation of Security Council resolutions, it submitted a 12,000-page plea of innocence. Submitted on Dec. 7, it is only the most recent "full, final and complete declaration" filed in response to Security Council demands first made in 1991. Before expelling U.N. inspectors in 1998, Iraq submitted seven reports, each purporting to be full, final and complete, each proving to be false and incomplete, each yielding to a subsequent false "full, final and complete" declaration. Iraq's admissions have never exceeded what it believed the U.S. and U.N. already knew and frequently have been limited to what it has been caught red-handed having done.

During the 1990s, Iraq committed vast resources to a sophisticated program to systematically deceive U.N. inspectors, ultimately being able to clear and clean a building in as little as tens of minutes, literally shuttling equipment out the back door while inspectors were given the shuffle at the front door. Mr. Powell, in his presentation to the Security Council today, will provide intelligence that this deception program continues today.

As for the most recent "full, final and complete declaration," as Mr. Blix's report noted, not only were its 12,000 pages a reprint of earlier documents lacking any new evidence to account for the missing tons of Iraqi chemical and biological agents, the report deliberately altered earlier documents to hide information that Iraq had previously admitted. Saddam takes the international community not only to be fools but also forgetful. Unfortunately, he is not far off the mark.

Given all the evidence, the question remains why so many seem more inclined to rally against the U.S. rather than with it.

Part of the answer is that Saddam has waged a successful propaganda campaign that has placed the suffering of the Iraqi people at the doorstep of the White House. There are also the cynical calculations of those governments who are more interested in securing oil contracts and accounts receivable than in dismantling Iraqi weapons. In addition, the "sanctions fatigue syndrome" has been exacerbated by internal European power plays such as the recent Franco-German entente at Versailles.

But a measure of responsibility also rests with the administration's failure, thus far, to convince the world community of the necessity to invade Iraq and use military force to disarm and change the regime.

President Bush has tried to overcome all doubt and reservation by tying Iraq to the spread of terrorism. In a casual but on-camera declaration during a September photo-op, he stated that "You can't distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror."

To support this claim, the White House has offered carefully worded statements that point out the following:

There have been unspecified "contacts" between Iraqi "senior officials" and members of al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda personnel have found "refuge" in Baghdad.

Iraqis have provided training assistance to al Qaeda in chemical weapons development.

Saddam has been known to assassinate Iraqi dissidents abroad, to provide safe haven to armed Iranian groups opposed to the mullahs' regime in Iran, and provide well-publicized financial support to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers in an attempt to align international sympathy for the Palestinians to his own regime. He is, indeed, an evil man. But in contrast to many others, ranging from elements of the Iranian government to the IRA, Iraq does not have a reputation for sponsoring or conducting acts of terrorism.

Recognizing that compelling evidence to link Saddam to the export of terrorism may not be forthcoming, Prime Minister Tony Blair recently stated that if Saddam is not aiding terrorists today, he surely will do so tomorrow. Under this standard, a number of nations beyond Iran and North Korea who have similar programs and objectives are likely to be placed on the regime change or disarmament target list.

I remain convinced, however, that if President Bush hopes to meet the jus ad bellum tests that trace their roots to the days -- and orations -- of Cicero, he would be well-advised to keep the evidentiary focus on Saddam's deceits and broken promises and on the U.N.'s obligations to enforce its own resolutions.

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If the U.N. has a less destructive, more humane and successful method of securing Saddam's disarmament than through the use of military force, it must act without further delay and disingenuousness. If, however, it chooses to remain indifferent to those who flout its resolutions and rule of law, it will succeed only in breeding contempt for the institution and further defiance of its rules.

Time, as President Bush stated, is running out both for Saddam to come clean and for the U.N. to step forward.

Mr. Cohen was secretary of defense under President Clinton.