The real "coalition of the bribed" was at the U.N.
Friday, October 8, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT
Judging from the current Iraq debate, you might think Saddam Hussein didn't use poison gas on the Kurds and the Iranians in the 1980s. Or that 500,000 American troops hadn't been sent to the Gulf in 1990-91 to reverse his invasion of Kuwait. Or that Saddam hadn't tried to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush in 1993, or long harbored one of the bombers who attacked the World Trade Center that year.
It might also be easy to forget that Saddam never came clean about his weapons of mass destruction, resulting in Bill Clinton's Desert Fox bombing of 1998 and the ejection of U.N. inspectors. Or that he necessitated a huge U.S. troop presence in the region, which Osama bin Laden cited in his 1998 fatwa as one of his primary grievances against America.
It's clear why John Kerry doesn't want to talk about these things, having decided for now that Iraq was "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." Count us a bit mystified, however, that the incumbent hasn't done a better job putting his Iraq policy in this context. Fortunately for President Bush, Congressional Oil for Food hearings and Charles Duelfer's final weapons inspections report for the CIA have come along this week to remind us all that the "containment" of Saddam was neither as blissful as certain partisans remember it, nor even sustainable.
"By 2000-2001, Saddam had managed to mitigate many of the effects of sanctions and undermine their international support," Mr. Duelfer writes. "Iraq was within striking distance of a de facto end to the sanctions regime."
We realize that some of our media friends think the salient news here is the old news: that Saddam did not possess large stockpiles of WMDs when Coalition forces invaded in March 2003. But Mr. Duelfer explicitly rejects the facile conclusion that therefore sanctions were working. Among his other findings, based in part on interviews with Saddam himself and other senior regime figures:
â€?Saddam believed weapons of mass destruction were essential to the preservation of his power, especially during the Iran-Iraq and 1991 Gulf wars.
â€?He engaged in strategic deception intended to suggest that he retained WMD.
â€?He fully intended to resume real WMD production after the expected lifting of U.N. sanctions, and he maintained weapons programs that put him in "material breach" of U.N. resolutions including 1441.
â€?And he instituted an epic bribery scheme aimed primarily at three of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, with the intent of having them help lift those sanctions.
"Saddam personally approved and removed all names of voucher recipients," under the Oil for Food program, Mr. Duelfer writes. Alleged beneficiaries of such bribes include individuals in China, as well as some with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Jacques Chirac.
As Congressmen Chris Shays's House International Relations Committee heard in testimony on Tuesday, France, Russia and China did in fact work hard to help Saddam skirt and escape sanctions. One Iraqi intelligence report uncovered by Mr. Duelfer says that a French politician assured Saddam in a letter that France would use its U.N. veto against any U.S. effort to attack Iraq--as indeed France later threatened to do.
Evidence also continues to mount that U.N. Oil for Food Program director Benon Sevan was among those on Saddam's payroll. (He denies it.) And contrary to earlier claims that Secretary-General Kofi Annan's son Kojo severed connections with the Swiss-based firm Cotecna prior to it winning its Oil for Food inspections contract, we now know that Kojo was kept on the company payroll for another year. We eagerly await the promised interim report from the U.N.'s Paul Volcker-led Oil for Food review panel, and hope in the interests of an informed electorate that it can be delivered soon.
But there are already plenty of facts on the table to support one conclusion. To wit: Even if one accepts the desirability of some kind of "global test" before America acts militarily, U.N. Security Council approval can't be it. There was never any chance that this "coalition of the bribed" was going to explicitly endorse regime change, or the presumed alternative of another 12 years of economic sanctions. "Politically," writes Mr. Duelfer, "the Iraqis were losing their stigma" by 2001.
The sanctions-were-working crowd also ignores that Saddam never would have readmitted weapons inspectors without the kind of U.S. troop mobilization that isn't feasible with any frequency. For President Bush to have backed off in 2003 without unambiguous disarmament would have meant the end once and for all of any real threat of force behind "containment."
Senator John McCain summed it up well at the Republican Convention: "Those who criticize that decision [to go to war in Iraq] would have us believe that the choice was between a status quo that was well enough left alone and war. But there was no status quo to be left alone." Supporters of his Iraq policy are hoping that Mr. Bush finds a similar voice tonight.