Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 2002 / 18 Tishrei 5763

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

An offer we can refuse | What's this, a good word for George W. Bush from Kofi Annan, secretary-general and appeaser-in-chief of the United Nations? Yep. It took only four days after the American president and, we emphasize, the American commander-in-chief addressed the United Nations before Iraq's Saddam Hussein was making nice again.

"I believe the president's speech galvanized the international community," concluded Kofi Annan. We don't know about that -- the French and Russians and Arab delegations appear as sluggish as ever, the Chinese as inscrutable. But the president's words, and more important, the growing suspicion that he meant them, certainly galvanized Saddam Hussein. Now he's hanging out banners saying WELCOME, U.N. INSPECTORS!

Translation: The Mideast's own Wile E. Coyote is no longer insisting on impossible conditions before agreeing to let international inspectors back into his country. If the past is any guide, and it is, said impossible conditions will only be reinstated later, when the heat's off.

Saddam Hussein is playing for time. He's done it for years now. It may take those inspectors weeks or months before they get to Baghdad and start fanning out in their search for signs of his strategic weapons and attempts to develop them. Chances are he can keep them at bay. And if he's found out, again, what are the inspectors going to do about it? Report it to the United Nations, that glorified Dead Letter Office? The only thing such a report will set off is still another round of negotiations, and the games will begin again.

Word is that Kofi Annan and Saddam Hussein worked together on the draft of Iraq's letter accepting the inspectors; they could wind up working together on the letter withdrawing them once they haven't found anything that Saddam Hussein doesn't want them to find.

By now Saddam has tossed these same inspectors out a couple of times -- whenever they started closing in on his weapons labs. It's not exactly a secret why he's relented this time: the fear that the Americans may actually mean what they say this time.

To turn around Clausewitz's dictum, diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means. Saddam Hussein's latest diplomatic offensive was as predictable as it was practiced. Remember how he sent his foreign minister to negotiate Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait in January of '91, once Washington had made it clear it was serious about forcing him to relinquish his oil-rich prize?

After a six-hour confab between his oily foreign minister and James Baker, it turned out that Saddam was interested only in negotiating his withdrawal from Kuwait, not in withdrawing. And the war came.

Now Iraq's own Ibn Hitler is interested in having the U.N.'s inspectors return, but certainly not in their finding anything to inspect. Like supplies of anthrax, or nerve gas, or the makings of a nuclear weapon. You can bet he's got his agents out now bidding for fissionable material. That's the word from American intelligence, The New York Times and assorted Iraqi defectors. And no one who has followed Saddam Hussein's dangerous career would doubt it.

Time and again, Iraq's ruthless ruler has assured the world that he's not developing strategic weapons, preparatory to harassing and then expelling inspectors who got too close to discovering the truth. Now the world is supposed to believe him again. Much of it will. The credulous at home and abroad will want to believe it. So will those who would just rather not challenge him and hope for the best. The attractions of appeasement did not end when the 1930s did. It's as if we never learn.

Saddam Hussein has a strong hand to play at the United Nations. He can count on the Arab nations to declare that the crisis is over now that Saddam Hussein has accepted international inspectors once again. On the Security Council, both France and Russia have a material interest in doing business with Iraq. Germany's prime minister has already given notice that, whatever the U.N. decides, his country can be relied on not to be relied on. ("The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." -- Edmund Burke)

Only if Washington begins to play its own strong cards, call in its debts and press ahead will Saddam's latest ploy fail.

In the end, this mounting confrontation is not a matter of Saddam Hussein vs. the United Nations. It boils down to America, a few steadfast allies like the British, and some wobbly friends versus Saddam Hussein. And the crucial arena will not be the U.N. Security Council but American public opinion. Saddam Hussein's last best hope is the Congress of the United States and its immense capacity for confusion and division. If it speaks with a dozen tongues, and reflects the image of a wavering nation it won't be long before Saddam Hussein won't care if those inspectors find his Bomb. He'll have it.

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