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Secretary Powell Goes to the U.N.

Colin Powell's presentation made it harder for the international nay-sayers. But France may be up to the challenge.

1:30 PM, Feb 5, 2003 • By FRED BARNES
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SECRETARY OF STATE Colin Powell hardly had to make the case that Iraq is aggressively thwarting United Nations arms inspectors. The evidence is so overwhelming that even the French concede this point. More important was the compelling case Powell made about the weapons of mass destruction which Iraq today possesses or is developing. And just as important was the solid evidence Powell outlined of a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. Countries that dismiss or downgrade or minimize the substance of Powell's case on either WMDs or the terrorist link are now on far weaker ground and would simply rather appease Saddam Hussein and throw a monkey wrench in President Bush's effort to achieve regime change in Iraq.

Three countries, to one degree or another, fell into this category immediately after Powell's speech to the U.N. Security Council: France, China, and Russia. But the responses by China and Russia were pro forma, no doubt drafted before Powell spoke. Both said inspections must continue in Iraq. Their real response will come later, and Russia, at least, is expected to join the United States against Iraq. China? Who knows? France is another story.

The French changed their tone, becoming slightly less hostile to the U.S. contention that Iraq is more than ever in material breach of U.N. resolutions requiring disarmament. But there are two ways the French could go. One is to accede gradually and grudgingly to the U.S. position after a few more weeks of fruitless inspections. The other the proposal, by Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, is to triple the size of the inspection force and make the inspections even more intrusive. France could be laying the groundwork to argue the Iraqi threat would be effectively contained by flooding the country with inspectors, making war or regime change unnecessary.

This second, and probably more likely option, is characteristically cynical of France. The French, after all, painstakingly negotiated U.N. Resolution 1441, which sent inspectors back to Iraq last November with the job of verifying Iraq's disarmament. Now inspectors would be taking on a completely different role, not certifying disarmament but preventing the Iraqis from using the WMDs the French--like everyone else--now knows they have. However, this could be merely a temporary position for the French, who may conclude that they have to go along with Bush in the end, or risk being isolated in Europe and in Bush's doghouse for years to come.

WHAT GAVE POWELL'S PRESENTATION such power was not entirely what he said, since much of it was already known. It was that Powell, a revered figure around the world, was saying it. Powell had persuaded the president to go to the United Nations in the first place. And he is regarded as the chief dove in a Bush administration dominated by hawks such as Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In his speech, he was every bit as hawkish as Cheney or Rumsfeld--or his boss, the president. In a period of weeks, Powell has moved a long way from his earlier position of seeking to avert war. (This is the guy, remember, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed going to war against Iraq in 1990 after Saddam invaded Kuwait.)

Powell was aided by what are popularly known as audio-visuals: transcripts presented on a large screen of Iraqi military officers talking about hiding weapons, aerial photos of trucks taking away WMDs for hiding, film of an Iraqi jet spraying what could be a chemical weapon. He added eyewitness reports from Iraqi defectors to back up his case. And Powell had rich and specific details: 18 mobile labs aboard trucks for work on biological and chemical weapons, 1,600 death row prisoners used in tests of WMDs, 12 workers killed in a chemical weapons lab.

The al Qaeda connection was the toughest case for Powell to make--but he made it. Much of the evidence was in a New Yorker article this week by Jeffrey Goldberg, who earlier interviewed imprisoned al Qaeda agents in northern Iraq. He cited numerous links, including the training of al Qaeda agents in the use of poisons. A network of terrorists "remains in Baghdad."

Why are terrorists so significant in the Iraq context? Saddam has WMDs, but not the delivery vehicles to reach western Europe or the United States. The attacks on September 11, 2001, showed that the United States can be penetrated by terrorists. "September 11 changed the world," Bush said last week. And one change was that Saddam now had his delivery vehicle--terrorists. WMDs plus terrorists is what makes Saddam an imminent threat.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.