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Dangerously Unserious

Hans Blix's presentation to the United Nations showed a fundamental lack of seriousness on the part of the inspectors and the U.N. itself.

4:00 PM, Feb 14, 2003 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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THE DEBATE at the United Nations today should have made clear several things even to those skeptical of a war in Iraq: Hans Blix and Mohammed el Baradei are not serious inspectors; the French and the Germans are not serious allies; and the United Nations is no longer a viable, relevant international body.

First the inspectors. The tone of Blix's presentation this morning was disturbing, focused as it was on the rare instances of Iraqi cooperation rather than the obvious and disturbing pattern of Iraqi noncompliance. Blix's report of the February 8 and 9 meetings between inspectors and Iraqi weapons experts is indicative. He sees a glass half-full, when it is, in fact, empty.

Or, as Blix put it: "Although no new evidence was provided in the papers and no open issues were closed through them or the expert discussions, the presentation of the papers could be indicative of a more active attitude focusing on the important open issues."

No new evidence. No resolution of open questions. But, he says, the papers might reflect a "more active attitude" by the Iraqis?

BLIX WAS ENCOURAGED that Iraq has consented to "talks" with South Africa on how to disarm. He "welcomed" two new Iraqi "commissions" to search the country for proscribed weapons. And he was clearly pleased with the "presidential decree" Saddam Hussein announced two hours before the U.N. meeting. Blix revealed that he and Dr. el Baradei "had urged the Iraqi side to enact legislation implementing the U.N. prohibitions regarding weapons of mass destruction."

That's worth dwelling on for a moment. Iraq is a dictatorship. There is no such thing as "legislation" in any meaningful sense of the word. Saddam Hussein has lied about his weapons of mass destruction for 12 years. He currently says his country is "clear" of such weapons. If he could prove it, no one would be talking about inspectors.

That Blix and el Baradei would make such a recommendation is revealing. That they are encouraged by this decree, banning weapons Saddam Hussein says he doesn't have, is more revealing.

Blix spoke of the importance of intelligence and asked for more, a request clearly directed at the United States. Then, moments later, he spoke of Colin Powell's presentation last week. That 80-minute presentation was loaded with fresh intelligence further proving, for those who needed such proof, Iraq's ongoing concealment of the weapons of mass destruction programs. Blix referred to Powell's presentation twice. Once, to note a general "appreciation of the briefing," and the second to question one of Powell's conclusions about movement around an Iraqi weapons site.

Blix could have spoken at length about the strength of Powell's case. He could have singled out telephone intercepts demonstrating Iraqi concealment efforts. Instead, he chose to challenge the U.S. interpretation of satellite imagery.

Each time Blix's report strayed from a fact-based examination to a subjective analysis, Blix seemed keen to give Iraq the benefit of a decades' worth of doubts. On several occasions, including two clear "smoking guns," the facts proved stubborn.

Smoking gun number one: "The experts concluded unanimously that, based on the data provided by Iraq, the two declared variants of the Al-Samud II missile were capable of exceeding 150 kilometers in range. This missile system is therefore proscribed for Iraq pursuant to Resolution 687 and the monitoring plan adopted by Resolution 715."

Smoking gun number two: "With respect to the casting chambers, I note the following. UNSCOM ordered and supervised the destruction of the casting chambers, which had been intended for use in the production of the proscribed Bader (ph) 2000 missile system. Iraq has declared that it has reconstituted these chambers. The experts have confirmed that the reconstituted casting chambers could still be used to produce motors for missiles capable of ranges significantly greater than 150 kilometers. Accordingly, these chambers remain proscribed."

DESPITE these obvious violations, the French and Germans remain opposed to the "serious consequences" they established when they voted for Resolution 1441. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin claimed that the inspectors had made "significant gains" since the last report on January 27. Predictably, de Villepin casts Iraq's serious violations as proof that inspection are working. "We all realize that success in the inspections presupposes that we get full and complete cooperation from Iraq," he said. "France has consistently demanded this."

And, given that this is Iraq's umpteenth "last chance," have we seen such cooperation? Of course not. But de Villepin isn't discouraged. "Real progress is emerging."