The new U.N. arms inspectors have the latest technology supposed to make their work more accurate and efficient.

I’m not sure how successful that will be against pure, unmitigated guile. And the Iraqis have nothing if not that.

I keep hoping that someday grownups will be in charge. It’s the same feeling I had when I was little and believed in Santa Claus. Then real life intruded and my beliefs didn’t stand a chance.

I should know better now. Reality is more like “The Wizard of Oz” – and we know his story! But the difference is that there are high stakes. Really high. It’s called survival.

While the official inspections are going on, backed by a U.N. resolution passed in the Security Council 15-0, the crunch comes on Dec. 8. That’s when Iraq is required to declare all its weapons of mass destruction.

For weeks, headlines were filled with events leading up to the resumption of arms inspections. Now we read daily reports of those inspections. So far, they say nothing deadly has been found in the first of some 1,000 sites on the agenda, including a number inspected during the first go-round, 10 years ago.

The Iraqis continue to insist they have nothing of the kind within their borders. Of course, they said the same thing 10 years ago when inspections turned up enriched uranium, mustard and VX nerve gases and botulinum and anthrax toxins.

Of course, while denying having them, they also say if they’re attacked, they’ll retaliate with weapons of mass destruction on Israel.

They don’t explain how they’ll use weapons they don’t have. Maybe they sent their production orders off shore.

Iraq has stuck its thumb in the eye of the West since inspectors withdrew in 1998. Remember, the end of inspections then was the result of Iraq’s non-cooperation with the provisions of the 1991 Gulf War cease-fire. They didn’t cooperate then. Why should they now?

They had the interim to conduct a deadly catch-up and play a public-relations game to garner sympathy – think of those “dead children” – and all the while pocketing money intended for civilian relief – never mind money from arms and oil.

But there’s more going on that’s worrisome. On ABC Radio News a few days ago, the newsreader said (with, I assume, a straight face – but then being radio, who’d know?) that the arms inspectors in Iraq were puzzled, because although the inspections were supposed to be unannounced, it appeared that they were “expected” at each location visited.

Hey, I’m no expert, but my immediate reaction was somebody with the “good guys” is a “bad guy.” Not a genius conclusion. But then the story disappeared. I never heard nor saw it again.

A day later, the other shoe fell. I saw a Washington Post report, which revealed that in this vital arms-inspection program, the U.N. did no background checks on applicants. None!

None?

None.

U.N. officials admitted it, but defended their choices for inspectors. According to Ewen Buchanan, a UNMOVIC spokesman, “At the United Nations, with people applying from many countries, we do not have the capability to do that. How would you check?”

Oh Lord, please put the grown-ups in charge.

One of the inspectors is Harvey John “Jack” McGeorge of Virginia. According to the Post, not only doesn’t he have a degree in biochemistry, bacteriology or chemical engineering – areas the U.N. says it wants, but his few years of military munitions experience was more than 20 years ago. He does have a leadership role in sadomasochistic sex clubs, including, according to the Post, conducting training classes in S&M for potential leaders of that community.

I don’t have any bone to pick with McGeorge, but I do have a big one to pick with the U.N. There’s no excuse for no background checks. Everyone sent to Iraq should be checked. We’re in the midst of a war on terrorism, dealing with people willing to lie and deceive to further their cause. In that climate, no one can be trusted.

If the inspectors really were surprised their arrival was known in advance, it means three things. They are naive, are the wrong people on the job and, there’s someone inside who’s working for the enemy.

In light of accusations by former Gulf War inspectors that the new team was chosen with an eye toward not offending Iraq, the whole operation may be a sham.

With world safety at stake, it appears – again – that the U.N. shows how useless, gutless and politically influenced it is.

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