Relax on Iraq
Jude Wanniski
September 9, 2002


Watching Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell carefully on their talk show appearances Sunday, it was clear all their hawkishness about military action against Iraq contained clear loopholes that will defer such action for a round of UN weapons inspections. In addition, President George W. Bush's insistence that there be "regime change" in Baghdad was also put on hold, as both Cheney and Powell, in separate interviews, said that was the position of the United States, but not the United Nations. Asked whether Saddam Hussein might survive, if he behaves, Cheney said that was a speculative matter; Powell said: "if he moves his country in a different direction." Cheney also seemed to indicate the President`s UN speech on Thursday will reflect the views of former Secretary of State James Baker III, who has recommended the UN route. The UN Security Council would pass a resolution demanding Iraq allow the UNMOVIC inspectors in, without preconditions, unfettered access, and if Saddam Hussein does not comply, the U.S. will have the support of the world.

Of course, Baghdad will comply, perhaps after making a fuss about the embargo and no-fly zones, etc., but it has already given every indication it is prepared to have professional inspectors chosen by the U.S. Congress look anywhere they wish. There have also been two letters from the Iraqi government to UN General Secretary Kofi Annan inviting UNMOVIC, with the first rejected because it seemed to imply preconditions. The second, which removes some of that fuzzy language, has not yet been answered, but considering the warm discussions between Kofi Annan and Iraq`s Tariq Aziz at the Johannesburg summit last week, it is fairly certain that it will all work out in the allotted time. There should be Iraq agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency to permit discretionary inspections at its sudden requests.

And there would also be some assurances to Baghdad that there will be closure to the process in a way that permits sanctions to be lifted. The current written UN resolution can solve this problem to Iraqi satisfaction, one suspects, if they convert the disarmament language to qualitative compliance instead of the current quantitative compliance. That is, if UNMOVIC says Iraq is effectively disarmed of weapons of mass destruction, the sanctions could be lifted. As it is, if there is a missing cannister of mustard gas, or one SCUD missile that is unaccounted for in the paperwork, the United States can insist the sanctions remain in place. In his final report as chief inspector, Scott Ritter said there were small amounts of arms that could not be accounted for -- 140 cans of mustard gas, for example -- but that the Iraqi army would need several thousand cannisters to make effective use of the gas on the battlefield. We have our fingers crossed.

BANKRUPTCY BILL: The fate of the bill is still up in the air, but at least the GOP congressional leaders could not get all the votes they needed last week and will be back tonight and tomorrow trying to locate Democrats willing to support it. It could still make it into law as there seems no chance the President would veto it outright. Of course, there is always the end-of-session pocket veto, should the President ask that portions of the bill be reconsidered in the 108th Congress.