The Friday reports of UNMOVIK's Hans Blix and IAEA's Mohammed Baradei removed any remaining doubt in my mind that there will be no "war" with Iraq now or in the future. There was absolutely nothing in the reports suggesting remaining issues with Baghdad that cannot be resolved in the very near future -- and no evidence from Baghdad that it will resist whatever remaining demands are made on it. The saber rattling from the Bush administration has reached a new level of intensity, but that`s to be expected when the game of brinkmanship being played out calls for it. In watching President Bush`s press conference on Thursday and the presentations at the UN on Friday, I had the sense of seeing the players reading from scripts. Secretary of State Colin Powell might not only come out of this with a Nobel Peace Prize, having orchestrated the process, but may also pick up an Oscar as best actor.
What has to remain clear is that all the remaining issues regarding Iraq's disarmament of weapons of mass destruction are very near closure. The only reason IAEA's Baradei did not come right out and say he can now close the nuclear file is that he has promised Powell to take one last look at those aluminum tubes. The CIA "evidence" that Iraq was trying to buy enriched uranium from Niger in 1999 turns out to be forged documents. This was a staggering embarrassment to the warhawks and the last nail in the coffin of U.S. intelligence reports the Bush administration began promising three months ago it would produce at the right moment. The UN inspectors have been running down these CIA clues of mobile laboratories and secret underground storage sites and finding nothing. As for further clues, the CIA`s George Tenet now says the bag is empty of "high value material."
The chemical and biological WMD files are not as easy to close, but Blix told the UNSC that it could be done in "months," not days or years. When the discredited UNSCOM team left Iraq in 1998, so President Clinton could drop some bombs, it had concluded that Iraq had been qualitatively disarmed. Chief UN Inspector Scott Ritter said 95% of the work had been completed and, at that time, the Iraqis no longer constituted a threat to their neighbors. Iraq had no success in weaponizing chem/bio, but UNSCOM still had not accounted for all the materials and equipment that might be used to reopen WMD programs. To satisfy UNMOVIK, Iraq has now gone back into the disposal sites where they dumped anthrax and VX in 1991 and are poring over files and interviewing workers. Iraq`s General Amin, who heads the monitoring agency, Sunday indicated the relevant reports should be completed within days and Blix seemed hopeful that they would be satisfactory. The Bush hawks have resumed the campaign they began months ago to discredit Blix, now accusing him of not mentioning some Iraqi drones that might be capable of delivering chem/bio weapons, if in fact Iraq had chem/bio weapons.
The immediate focus of the crisis atmosphere will be the vote in the UN Security Council that would set March 17, a week from today, as a deadline for Iraq`s complete disarmament. The way the British resolution is worded, Iraq has until then to demonstrate "full, unconditional, immediate and active cooperation in accordance with its disarmament obligations under Resolution 1441." There is the implied authorization for the use of force if such conditions are not met, but it is very murky on how that would be decided. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw insists it would still leave time for the inspectors to take the time they need to verify, but if Blix needs "months," where does that leave the U.S. forces stationed in the Gulf awaiting action in days or weeks? France, Russia and China are prepared to veto the resolution as it is now worded, but Powell indicated Sunday that he would be open to suggestions for improvement. As it stands, the UNSC would have to certify Iraq`s "complete cooperation" on or before March 17, which would give the U.S. a veto to withhold certification. Obviously, Baghdad could suddenly reveal mobile trailer labs and other secret sites in downtown Baghdad, but the Bush hawks would only say this is tip of the iceberg and demand war.
What Blix is counting on is the "deadline" set forth in UN Resolution #1284, which created UNMOVIK and allows 120 days for the inspectors to determine Iraq`s willingness to cooperate. At that point, in this case March 27, UNMOVIK and IAEA would present Iraq with a final worksheet. If Iraq meets the demands of that worksheet on a timely basis, the chem/bio files could also be closed. It is not easy to see how President Bush could tell the American people or US Congress that diplomacy has failed at the UN when the diplomatic process is still underway according to the UN resolutions in place. Pakistan's Ambassador Munir Akram put it well on Friday: "Ten days is unreasonable for full disarmament. The question we have for the British is, what exactly does Iraq have to do to show compliance?" He said the wording of the resolution might provide political cover for those who want war, but Pakistan wants to be clear. "The fuse on the firecracker is a little bit longer now, but we have to decide whether we really want to light that fuse."
There is still plenty of support for a go-it-alone strategy, even as soon as this week if the British resolution on the table fails. I=m frankly astonished that Henry Kissinger, who was once thought to be the smartest man around and who spent is career in creative diplomacy, now believes the President will lose credibility if he backs down at the last minute. I`m even more astonished that Steve Forbes believes that a war with Iraq will be salutary, and that the show of force and determination will frighten Pyongyang into submission. I`m less surprised to see Chairman John Warner of Senate Armed Services telling CNN Sunday equating Saddam with Hitler in 1939, a ridiculous comparison given the threats posed -- a point that Sen. Carl Levin [D-MI] criticized in his response to Warner. One nice surprise today is Milton Friedman telling CNBC that he does not see a recession ahead, unless we go to war with Iraq and encounter unpleasant surprises.
When there is no quick draw this week by the President, however the politicking unfolds over the British resolution, I`d guess the next scene in this script would involve a demand as part of its compliance with Blix that Baghdad submit to perpetual inspections by IAEA. In his Sunday press conference in Baghdad, General Amin practically acknowledged this would be fine with Iraq, an easy thing to do via the new import restrictions and the ease by which inspectors can detect nuke activity by their readings of the gamma rays emitted. Next on the agenda would be Baghdad demands that once the files are closed to the satisfaction of the UN, the sanctions should be lifted. Washington will insist that before that happens, there would have to be proof that Saddam will no longer persecute his own people -- a way of saying the sanctions will remain until Saddam is gone.
In other words, the issues will be around for some while, even if there is no war just around the corner. General Amin said his government still believes President Bush is determined to go to war, but that he still believes war can be avoided with the help of the other nations of the world and the global show of opposition from the people of the world, in their continuing mass demonstrations. In the final act as this script plays out, President Bush will get worldwide credit for backing the UN diplomatic process with a credible threat of war. It is practically impossible for me to see this playing out any other way.