Saddam to Bush: Checkmate?

By Larry Elder

Bush to Hussein: It’s not about the inspections, stupid.

Before the Iraqi government agreed to “unconditional” inspections, Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared on “Meet the Press.” Reportedly Powell – behind the scenes – urged the president to A) seek congressional approval, B) seek a U.N. Security Council resolution and C) force Saddam, one more time, to allow U.N. inspectors.

“It appears the president has now adopted those three positions,” said host Tim Russert, who then asked, “Is that a victory for Colin Powell within the administration?”

“Colin Powell doesn’t worry about victories and losses,” said the secretary of state. “In this instance, [Bush] weighed all of the advice he was getting, he looked at all the options … and he decided that, whether he needed the legal authority or not, it was the right thing to do. … This was a clear violation of U.N. resolutions. … You cannot argue about the fact that he’s in violation of these resolutions. … So the president decided it was the right thing to do to take this problem back to the international community.”

So Bush addressed the United Nations. “The Iraqi regime,” said Bush, “agreed to destroy and stop developing all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, and to prove to the world it has done so by complying with rigorous inspections. Iraq has broken every aspect of this fundamental pledge.”

Bush also described how Iraq has “admitted to producing tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents,” although inspectors believe that Iraq actually produced two to four times that amount, and never accounted for over three metric tons of biological weapons material. Bush pointed out that Iraq has fired ballistic missiles into Israel and other Arab countries, and accused Iraq of stockpiling chemical agents and expanding production facilities. The president also said Iraq admitted possessing a nuclear weapons program before the Gulf War, and retains the necessary infrastructure and nuclear scientists while attempting to procure materials necessary for nuclear weapons.

Then Saddam ostensibly blinked.

The Iraqi government sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who gleefully announced, “I am pleased to inform you of the decision of the government of the Republic of Iraq to allow the return of the United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq without conditions.” Without conditions? Actually, the Iraqi statement said, “Iraq is ready to discuss practical arrangements necessary for the immediate resumption of inspections.” Practical arrangements?

It looks as if Saddam caught the administration flat-footed. Before this “offer,” Bush expressed doubt that Saddam would comply, given that the dictator, up until now, linked resumption of inspections to the lifting of U.N. sanctions, and wanted a role in the selection of the inspection teams.

Now what?

The White House issued the following statement: “This is not a matter of inspections. It is about disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi regime’s compliance with all other Security Council resolutions. This is a tactical step by Iraq in hopes of avoiding strong U.N. Security Council action.”

But by addressing the United Nations, and implicitly supporting a resumption of U.N. inspections before military action, Bush changed the topic from the tyrant to the tyrant’s weapons. How can Bush now say to the world: “Too late. Been there, done that. We’re coming in anyway.”

But note that in Bush’s U.N. speech, he made additional demands: the disclosure, removal and destruction of all weapons of mass destruction; end the support of terrorism and actively suppress it; end civil-rights abuses of the Iraqi people; accept liability for costs of his invasion of Kuwait; and end the black-market trade connected with the so-called oil-for-food program.

The Iraqi offer stinks. Despite Iraqi pledges, the country still shelters and supports terrorism, attempted to assassinate the emir of Kuwait and President Bush-41 and still harbors al-Qaida escapees, while praising the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Iraq also promised to return all prisoners from Kuwait and elsewhere – including one American pilot among the more than 600 still unaccounted for. As the president said, “Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance.”

Remember Ken Adelman, former assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and arms-control director under President Reagan, recently said, “We can’t solve this problem by reinstating U.N. inspections. … [Saddam’s] chief nuclear engineer, Khidhir Hamza, identified more than 400 sites in Saddam’s nuclear-weapons program – not counting those making chemical and biological agents.” Accordingly, the president told the United Nations: “To assume this regime’s good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take.”

So Bush to Saddam: Too little, too late. This is not about inspections. This is about a brutal, maniacal dictator who possesses chemical and biological weapons and is in hot pursuit of acquiring nuclear ones. This is about you.