Now that the United States, Great Britain and most other members of the EU seem convinced that the time has come to disarm Saddam Hussein by force, this past weekend saw our French and German friends attempt yet another gambit that they say is designed to slow down the U.S. "rush to war." According to reports in the European press, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder plan to introduce a resolution this Friday (when Hans Blix is due to report once again to the Security Council) that will call for a tripling of weapons inspectors, increased surveillance flights and even the use of U.N. troops to support Blix's team.
The question arising on this side of the Atlantic, as expressed by Secretary Powell last weekend: Is this what the French and Germans mean by "serious consequences" (the wording in U.N. Resolution 1441) for Saddam Hussein's continued foot dragging in complying with that resolution's terms?
If so, it is a most curious position in light of the original construction of the UNMOVIC inspections team and French, German and Russian contributions to its configuration. Almost to a man the former UNSCOM inspectors have stated that the only inspections regime with a ghost of a chance to discover Iraq's WMDs -- in the face of a police state committed to thwarting such inspections -- would have to be virtually indistinguishable in size from a military occupation of a country the size of California. When UNMOVIC was put in to replace UNSCOM, the U.S. had wanted the far more aggressive Rolf Ekeus, former head of UNSCOM, to head it up along with a goodly number of his former inspections team. At the insistence of the French, Germans and Russians, however -- and with the backing of Baghdad, naturally -- the more pliable Dr. Blix was chosen and a less technically capable but more politically correct team of inspectors assembled.
It's safe to assume that Chirac and Schroeder, with Vladimir Putin joining the chorus, have now agreed to terms they initially rejected merely to forestall the removal of Saddam Hussein. And if one can take at face value the remarks of Saddam's former bombmaker Khidhir Hamza, writing in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, the French and Germans, if not the Russians, had considerable economic interests in providing Saddam with nuclear technology in addition to their well-documented oil interests. In its cynicism, the Franco-German demarche comes down to a bald-faced attempt to string out the process. The assumption is that the U.S. cannot keep the type of force it has assembled on hold indefinitely, not with spring and summer weather making the prospects for action much more difficult.
Our wayward European friends, in short, are hoping that we and our other coalition partners will get tired, that the failed inspections and ineffective sanctions of the '90s will return, and that they can go back to protecting their economic interests with Saddam Hussein as before. When the archives of the Baath Party are opened up following Saddam's ouster, one has to wonder what "serious consequences" they'll end up facing.
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