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The Good Activist

Gary Milhollin and the Wisconsin Project have helped shape the conversation on renewed weapons inspections.

12:00 AM, Oct 9, 2002 • By CLAUDIA WINKLER
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AS CONGRESS settles in to debate the confrontation with Iraq, one truly terrible policy option is off the table: Virtually no one is calling for a mere resumption of old-style U.N. weapons inspections as a way to contain Saddam Hussein. Suddenly, even outside the charmed circle of President Bush, his national security team, and their stalwart ally Tony Blair, "inspections" are now taken to mean inspections authorized by a tough new U.N. resolution demanding immediate compliance or else. From Senator Ted Kennedy to chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, no one is buying Saddam's offer to resume the cat-and-mouse game he played with inspectors back in the 1990s. And part of the credit goes to one private citizen, the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Gary Milhollin.

On September 16, under the headline "Why Iraq Will Defeat Arms Inspectors," the New York Times published an opinion piece by Milhollin and Kelly Motz, editor of the Wisconsin Project's The second paragraph began, "Whatever one's stance on how best to handle Saddam Hussein, it is crucial to understand one thing: United Nations inspections, as they are currently constituted, will never work." The piece went on to explain, clearly and authoritatively, why.

It was read by all the right people and became part of the conversation. Anyone who favored inspections had to answer its arguments--all the more when, a few days later, a longer, more detailed version of the piece hit the newsstands in the October issue of Commentary.

The piece in Commentary, of course, had been written first; Milhollin has published there repeatedly over the years. But as a seasoned Washington hand, he realized the audience that needed persuading would be less likely to see and heed his argument if it appeared in the neoconservative monthly of the American Jewish Committee than if it ran on the op-ed page of the New York Times. His editors at Commentary saw the point, and favored getting the piece out, despite the Times's policy of not acknowledging the forthcoming article from which it derived.

Milhollin, who gives activism a good name, founded the Wisconsin Project in 1986 to publicize the dangers of nuclear proliferation. Through years of naming names--both companies implicated in the development of weapons of mass destruction and the agencies and officeholders who help them--he's built a reputation as modest, nonpartisan, and well informed. His Risk Report, a bimonthly CD-ROM on the development of weapons proscribed by international agreements, draws mainly from public sources, yet is considered a must-read in nonproliferation circles.

It's too soon to know just what the eventual U.N. resolution will say. President Bush, in his Cincinnati speech Monday night, called on Baghdad to "reveal and destroy, under U.N. supervision, all existing weapons of mass destruction." He went on, "To ensure that we learn the truth, the regime must allow witnesses to its illegal activities to be interviewed outside the country--and these witnesses must be free to bring their families with them so they all beyond the reach of Saddam Hussein's terror and murder. And inspectors must have access to any site, at any time, without pre-clearance, without delay, without exceptions." The papers are quoting Hans Blix, meanwhile, as saying after a meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell that support in the Security Council for stringent requirements is "very broad."

We don't want to prejudge the Council's work, but this seems to be shaping up as a neat illustration of how freedom works.

Claudia Winkler is a managing editor at The Weekly Standard.