The Blog

Blix Tricks

The United Nations crowd is trying to replace the goal of "regime change" with a permanent inspections regime in Iraq.

11:00 PM, Jan 21, 2003 • By FRED BARNES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

ONE OF THE CHIEF PROBLEMS with United Nations arms inspections in Iraq has now become a reality. Head inspector Hans Blix and France, Russia, and a few other countries now want the inspections to become all but permanent, dragging on for many months. That amounts to a policy switch, away from the regime change in Iraq sought by President Bush and toward containment of Iraq, the policy preferred by Blix, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Europe (with the exception of Great Britain), Iraq's Arab neighbors, and (perhaps) Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Blix said as much last week when he talked glowingly about the large inspection force, including helicopters and two offices, that's being deployed in Iraq and "fanning out around the country." Not only do the inspection teams "constitute a deterrent" to any use of weapons of mass destruction or other aggressive action by Saddam Hussein, Blix said, but "it's a form of containment." Indeed, it is.

But stopping Saddam from an attack isn't what's needed today. He's eager to avert a war with the United States, not provoke one. The threat posed by Saddam is his development of WMDs. We know he doesn't have the capability of reaching the United States or Western Europe with missiles loaded with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. But since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, it's clear there's another delivery vehicle available to him: al Qaeda terrorists operating in the United States. Containment by inspectors in Iraq will do nothing to prevent the use of WMDs by terrorists armed by Iraq. Nor is containment likely to uncover WMD caches in Iraq at all, given the size of the country and the years Saddam has had to hide them.

The earlier episode of U.N. inspections in Iraq, from 1991 to 1998, is telling on this point. Then, inspectors spread around Iraq and found nothing. They didn't have a clue. It wasn't until a son-in-law of Saddam defected to Jordan in 1995 that inspectors learned of Iraq's active nuclear weapons program and its stockpiling of other WMDs such as anthrax. The inspections may have served as a deterrent to the nonexistent threat of a new Iraqi attack. But they certainly hadn't impeded Saddam's intensive effort to develop WMDs.

Nor will containment halt Saddam's plans now. So far inspectors have found only some warheads that were not armed with WMDs, warheads that even U.S. officials said didn't qualify as a smoking gun. And Blix appears to have accepted Iraqi promises of increased cooperation. For the Iraqis, however, cooperation doled out in small amounts over many months is a delaying tactic. It keeps the inspectors in place while slowing the pace of inspections. Sure enough, the Blix team is talking about continuing inspections for as many as eight more months. Saddam's hope is that support for an American attack will dissipate over that period. Meanwhile, his drive to amass WMDs will not have been destroyed.

How did we get in this situation? Powell had much to do with it, persuading Bush that he should go to the United Nations before moving militarily against Iraq. In the Security Council, America got what was widely viewed as a major diplomatic victory last fall. The council voted unanimously to dispatch inspectors to Iraq for the first time since they were expelled in 1998. It may have been a Pyrrhic victory, now that Bush is stuck with inspectors in Iraq who don't want to leave. And he can't go to war to depose Saddam with them on the ground.

Did France and other countries--and even Powell--figure this would happen all along? Maybe, maybe not. But France and the rest have seized the moment to block any chance of Bush's winning a U.N. war resolution in the foreseeable future. The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, said the inspections are thwarting Saddam. "Already we know for a fact that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are being largely blocked, even frozen," he said Monday. But that's not the purpose of the inspections. They're supposed to force Saddam to disarm completely, not simply hold off on using WMDs.

France and the others are so bent on prolonging inspections that they've ignored Saddam's acquisition of materials essential to improving missiles and producing WMDs from a company in India. The materials have no dual use and India, under U.S. pressure, has cracked down on the company. The Los Angeles Times broke the story the day before Villepin announced France's opposition to a war resolution. Neither he nor his U.N. partners, including Blix, mentioned the acquisition.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.