There were many downcast eyes around the U.N. Security Council table when Secretary of State Colin Powell finished his 90-minute speech on Wednesday. With satellite photos, transcripts of intercepted conversations and only rare flashes of emotion, Powell demonstrated how Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is sparing no effort to continue production of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. And with a calm sternness, Powell specified what the U.N. has fought to ignore: Saddam’s direct support for terrorism, including his connection to al Qaeda. When Powell finished, few would lift their eyes to meet his. No longer can they say with any pretence of honesty that Saddam is no danger or that the U.N. inspection process is more than an expensive charade. But what Powell left unsaid is as significant as what he did say.
The feeble reaction of our opponents is the best gauge of the force of Powell’s facts. The Russians mumbled about the need to give the inspectors more time, the Chinese politely asked Saddam for more (?!) Iraqi cooperation in the inspections. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin flailed around in search of a credible way to prolong the inspections and thus preserve his nation’s undeserved influence on world affairs. De Villepin said that the inspections must be strengthened. His string of proposals — a “would you believe” list worthy of Maxwell Smart — included doubling or tripling the number of inspectors, addition of French reconnaissance aircraft (to sit on the runway next to our U-2s while the Iraqis refuse to permit flights over suspected areas), and a permanent U.N. inspection center in Iraq to “coordinate” Iraqi disarmament. De Villepin, in his noisy desperation to salvage legitimacy for the U.N. inspections, only proved the pointlessness of it all. In short, Powell cornered the U.N. Security Council, and left it to live or die in the next few weeks.
Saddam Hussein’s government is dedicated to the production and concealment of weapons of mass destruction, and is doing nothing to disarm. To the contrary, the Iraqi government high-level committee in charge of those programs has two responsibilities: research and produce new weapons and the means to deliver them, and conceal these projects from U.N. inspectors. Saddam’s chemical and biological-weapons programs are highly active and mobile. Powell was too polite to say that the UNMOVIC and IAEA inspection teams have been penetrated by Iraqi intelligence agents, but it is obvious that the Iraqis are getting inside information sufficient to move their chemical and biological weapons, and the facilities that make them, before the inspectors arrive. On November 10, 2002, the ammunition site at Taadji had four apparently stocked chemical munitions storage bunkers, complete with decontamination vehicles to protect the workers. By December 22, as the U.N. inspectors planned to visit the site, all the weapons and the decontamination equipment had disappeared. In short, Powell showed how Saddam is playing the U.N. inspectors like a cheap fiddle.
The urgency in disarming Saddam was shown not in the transcripts of the intercepted conversations proving that the U.N. inspectors are being deceived. The urgency is in Saddam’s tremendous progress in developing the means to deliver the weapons.
Most days, you don’t use jet fighters as crop dusters. One of the pictures Powell showed was of a Mirage F-1 spraying a simulated anthrax weapon on a target can’t be explained away. The F-1, an old but still capable supersonic fighter, can carry that anthrax or other chemical or biological weapons hundreds of miles and deliver it against many of Iraq’s neighbors. Saddam’s current arsenal of unmanned aerial vehicles — crude cruise missiles — range from hard-to-detect small aircraft to remote control versions of the F-1 and the MiG-21, another supersonic fighter. Any of them can deliver the chemical or biological weapons that Saddam has into Israel, or Turkey, or Kuwait. Left undisturbed, they will soon be armed with nuclear weapons.
Saddam has two of the three things he needs to produce nuclear weapons. First, he has a bomb design. Second, he has a cadre of nuclear scientists capable of turning that design into a working weapon. That he calls these men his “nuclear mujaheddin” tells us that his intent is the same as it was in 1981 when Israel bombed his Osirak reactor. Saddam wants these weapons to intimidate his neighbors — including Turkey and Israel — and to deter us from interfering in his imperial plans. All he needs is a sufficient supply of enriched uranium, and Iraq can be a nuclear power in a year.
Saddam’s terrorist pals have long thought Iraq a safe haven. And it has been, for more than a decade. As former CIA Director Jim Woolsey has said, we know there were Islamist terrorists training at Salman Pak — a camp near Baghdad — on how to hijack airliners using short knives. Powell’s evidence was of far greater scope. One of bin Laden’s al Qaeda lieutenants, Abu Musab Al-Zaraqawi, operates a terrorist network in Iraq. Bin Laden himself has met with Iraqi intelligence officers — in 1996 and after — and the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan has been serving as an al Qaeda front. None of this could go on without Saddam’s permission. There is more, ranging from Saddam’s financing of Palestinian suicide attacks on Israel, to reports that Saddam’s support network is now sending chemical weapons — including ricin, a deadly chemical weapon — into Europe. If we are to win the fight against terror, we must remove Saddam.
Inevitably, Powell’s speech will be compared with Adlai Stevenson’s of October 1962. In that speech to the U.N., the mild-mannered Stevenson forcefully faced down his Soviet counterpart and proved his president’s accusation of Soviet placement of nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba with U-2 reconnaissance photographs. Powell served his president as well as Stevenson served JFK. But because today’s Security Council is less inclined to listen than yesterday’s General Assembly, the U.N. Security Council is weeks away from irrelevance.
The most significant aspect of Powell’s address was what it did not contain. Powell never asked the U.N. to do anything. He asked for no Security Council determination that Iraq was in “material breach” of U.N. resolutions. He simply declared it to be the case. He asked for no resolution authorizing military action. He asked for — nothing. It was left to the British to explain. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said that Iraq has no intention of disarming. Straw said that though Britain does not want war, the U.N. now stands — as the League of Nations did in the 1930s — looking on, doing nothing as a small evil grows large. Straw is right, and in his remarks he should be speaking for America as well as Britain. With his evidence, Powell cornered the Security Council. It must act to enforce its resolution, or dissolve into irrelevance.
Unless the U.N. resolves to disarm Iraq by force, and does so in the next few weeks, no American president should ever again bring before it any issue of importance.
— Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and is the author of the novel, Legacy of Valor. He now often appears as a defense commentator on the Fox News Channel and MSNBC.