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Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 2002 / 16 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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Consumer Reports

No more cat and mouse | The president had it right the first time. "I am not willing to stake one American life on trusting Saddam Hussein." Alas, some of the follow-up rhetoric contributes to an illusion around the world that an unfettered, unconditional inspection regime will protect us from the menace of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The president, who has a knack for penetrating to the heart of the matter, might now amend his vow: "I'm not willing to stake one American life on trusting a U.N. inspector." This may sound harsh, but it accurately reflects the convictions of those specialists who managed the inspection process with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) for more than seven years before they were expelled from Iraq. Here is why, in a nutshell: Try looking for a few test tubes in a country larger than California. Or something the size of a washing machine that clever people are determined to hide. That's about the size of a centrifuge that could produce enough enriched uranium to create a nuclear weapon. As former inspector David Kay said, Saddam "will always defeat a U.N. type of inspection made up of 100 to 300 people in a country as large as Iraq."

UNMOVIC, the new U.N. inspection group, certainly doesn't lack the will or expertise to search out Saddam's weapons of death. But its inspectors have no experience in Iraq, will be unable to receive intelligence information from individual countries, and will have no ability to loop back with intelligence agencies of specific countries. These same inspectors will be contending with a world-class counterintelligence operation with lots of experience at outfoxing past U.N. inspectors. The inspectors' hands will be tied even more than UNSCOM's, working as they will for a U.N. administration that has no heart for an armed conflict in the event the inspectors are thwarted.

Schemes and obstructions. Of course, UNSCOM did discover much of Saddam's lethal inventories. Yet even after four years of combing the country, they remained ignorant of some 30,000 liters of the deadliest toxins, until Saddam's son-in-law defected and provided the information. The only proper way to perform inspections is to do them on a vast scale, without warning and without notice. UNSCOM tried some 260 inspections, but only five or six were true "surprises." This time, there is virtually no obtainable human intelligence to tip off the inspectors. Saddam's regime has been vicious in pressuring its people to keep quiet. And he has had the past four years to perfect his deception schemes, including moving his laboratories, materials, and production facilities underground or making them mobile so as to aid in their concealment.

Even if the U.N. passes a clear and tough resolution and the inspectors got on some of the right trails, they would run up against delays, obstructions, bugging, and a succession of manufactured crises and diversions. If the trigger for military action is in the hands of a civil servant overseeing the inspectors, it is hard to imagine a recommendation going back to the Security Council containing a judgment that might lead to war. It is no comfort that the secretary general himself coauthored the letter from Saddam, which took the steam out of Security Council pressure with its promise of unconditional inspections (only to be proven very conditional in follow-up exchanges).

Saddam would be quite happy, in any event, to waste time provoking a dispute that would go back to the Security Council, where Russia, China, and France are ready to end sanctions and resume trade relations with Baghdad. It is unlikely that they'd be terribly interested in finding anything that might justify toppling Saddam. And even if inspectors could find and destroy many of the offending weapons, it would hardly prevent Iraqi scientists from developing new weapons after the inspectors left.

The problem, in other words, is the regime. Nothing will be accomplished as long as Saddam runs the country. Which means, to put it bluntly, that inspections are a trap. This will enable Saddam to play rope-a-dope with the international community, fencing with inspectors until the crisis atmosphere dissipates and the political will to bring Iraq to heel expires, thus ultimately impeding development of international support for military action.

The only way to force Iraq to get rid of its terrible weapons is to rid the country of the regime that builds them. Washington must not pause, then, in its push to depose Saddam. We cannot allow our national security to be subject to a veto by countries whose interests are not with ours but with the potential economic and political benefits they may receive from opposing us.

The president's earlier refusal to get bogged down in an inspection charade was correct. The American people get it. We are in a war against terrorism, and we must fight that war in a time and a place of our choosing. The war's next phase, clearly, is Iraq.

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JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman