The lead story in today’s Washington Post is headlined: “No ‘Smoking Guns’ So Far, U.N. Is Told.” Like much of the reporting this morning, that mischaracterizes the situation.
The point of the exercise now underway in Iraq is not to find smoking guns, but to verify whether or not Saddam Hussein is turning in his guns, whether he is disarming as he agreed to do in 1991 in exchange for a ceasefire in the war that was being waged against him by America and its allies. It is on this basis, that Secretary of State Colin Powell correctly told NBC: “You don’t really have to have a smoking gun.”
That Saddam still has weapons of mass destruction can not be seriously doubted. “We know for a fact that there are weapons there,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer declared yesterday. Based on testimony from defectors (including Saddam’s son-in-law, since executed) and other sources, it is clear that Iraq still had chemical (e.g. VX nerve gas) and biological (e.g. anthrax) weapons in 1998 when the old inspection regime was terminated. Saddam’s recent 12,000-page declaration provided no clue as to where those weapons are now. By refusing to reveal that information, Saddam places himself, yet again, in material breach of U.N. resolutions.
As for nuclear weapons, Saddam would have acquired them in the 1980s had Israel not destroyed his nuclear reactor at Osirik in 1981; he would have acquired them in the 1990s, had President George H.W. Bush not launched a war against him in 1991. And Saddam will acquire them in the current decade — if what President George W. Bush calls a “coalition of the willing” does not take action to stop him.
The Washington Post further reports that “the inability of the United Nations to obtain definitive evidence of new weapons activities in Iraq is complicating U.S. efforts to galvanize international support for the military overthrow” of Saddam. That may well be, but it’s only a PR problem, one that can be cured by a well-designed PR campaign.
No one knowledgeable about this issue ever thought it likely that Hans Blix & Assoc. would locate weapons hidden in underground bunkers, in moving trucks, and rail cars, and who knows where else in a country larger than California. To headline the fact that what wasn’t expected hasn’t happened is equivalent to announcing: “Blind Pig Finds No Truffles.”
“There is still no evidence that Iraq has fundamentally changed its approach from one of deception to a genuine attempt to be forthcoming in meeting the council’s demand that it disarm,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Negroponte. That’s the point. And it’s all that is necessary to justify regime change.
— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign and Washington correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism.