Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 2002/ 26 Shevat, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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Not enough splendor for the inspectors | "... a drunk military man should order gallons [of wine] and put out more flags in order to increase his military splendor."

Ancient Chinese Sage

Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei are not exactly military men, but they enjoy the trappings of borrowed splendor, and yesterday they vowed to make themselves even more splendid if only the United States and other solvent nations will pay for the flags.

Mr. Blix, in the long-awaited report of the "inspections" of Saddam Hussein's suspected bioterror sites, conceded that about all he and his men discovered in Iraq was that Saddam "appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance" of its disarmament obligations.

Mohamed even had a few encouraging words for Saddam. "We have to date found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons program since the elimination of the program in the 1990s," he said. Messrs. Blix and ElBaradei complimented the Iraqis for providing something called "passive cooperation," meaning that Saddam didn't shoot anybody. We must be grateful for small favors.

None of this can surprise anyone. This was thoroughly predictable, which is why nobody in Washington imagined that the inspectors would have found anything in Iraq, even if they actually went looking very hard for anything other than extending the duration of a meal ticket. Mr. Blix has complained for weeks that he doesn't have enough cars, trucks, helicopters and doodads for the inspectors' uniforms. (Room service is slow, too.) When George W. Bush told the U.N. late last year to find some spine or become irrelevant, he was only making nice. The diplomats at the U.N. are already irrelevant, competent only at exploiting the sweet life in Manhattan and finding excuses to stay here. They understand Thomas Wolfe's famous caution that "you can't go home again."

Relevant or not, Saddam Hussein and the world will get America's answer to his continuing stalling, evading and obfuscating tonight, when the president reports to a joint session of Congress on the state of the union. If Saddam and the world want a preview of the president's remarks and his ire he could refer to the warning by Secretary of State Colin Powell at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"We will not shrink from war if that is the only way to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction," he said. "We continue to reserve our sovereign right to take military action against Iraq alone or in a coalition of the willing."

The hour is approaching when the United States and this "coalition of the willing" must, after an autumn and early winter of ever-more emphatic warnings, take the solemn next step toward redeeming the president's solemn word.

"History will judge," Mr. Powell said, "whether we have the strength, the fortitude and the willingness to take that next step."

Saddam is clever, but he has an audience at the United Nations with an appetite for buncombe. The 15 U.N. resolutions in which Iraq stands in defiance demand that he, not the U.N., answer questions about his programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. (He, not the grand coalition, lost the Gulf war.) Rather than answer the questions, he has challenged the inspectors to catch him if they can. If they can't, under his rules, he's home free.

"How much time does Iraq need to answer these questions?" asks Colin Powell, who was Europe's favorite Washington dove barely a fortnight ago. "It is not a matter of time, it is a matter of telling the truth, and Saddam Hussein still responds with evasions and lies."

Mr. Powell drew the connection between Saddam and al Qaeda and September 11 in the starkest terms yet, and with it the implication that if civilizations are not at war, the West is at least at war with that large uncivilized part of the Islamic world that vows violent death to the infidels. (That's the rest of us.) Since it's only a matter of time until the uncivilized fanatics acquire Saddam's instruments of violent death, only fools or reckless French- and German-speaking opportunists would give Saddam and his ilk more time to organize a second and far more deadly assault on civilization.

No one should doubt that George W. intends to pull the trigger, even if our French and German "allies" continue to cower under their featherbeds and our Russian and Chinese "friends" try to sneak a resupply of arms to Baghdad. The president understands better than anyone the consequences of challenging Saddam to read his lips. To back down in the face of pressure from the pygmies of Europe would put "Bush" in the thesaurus as a synonym for "bloviator" and "toothless windbag" for centuries to come.

But he must strike soon. The hour is late for making threats and promises. George W. drew the line in the sand. Saddam crossed it. The commander in chief has put out enough flags.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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