For those playing dog-in-the-manger about Iraq, the manger had a revolving door last week.
The week began with Senator Tom Daschle continuing to lead several of his Democrat colleagues in choruses of We-Need-More-Specifics-and-There-Are-Many-Troubling-Questions-That-Are-Unanswered. Their strategy had been to drag out debate on a resolution supporting the Bush plan to dislodge Saddam Hussein. Presumably they were worried that a show of support for Bush would alienate the ghosts of the anti-Vietnam War movement amongst their constituents.
But then they looked at the polls. These are more reliable than tea leaves for deciding on a course of action. Bush's ratings had shot up again, as a result of his forceful message to the United Nations, the American people and the world in general. The dogs scrambled for the manger's exit.
The Democrats have a new strategy now. They want a quick debate and swift vote so they can get back to Social Security demagoguery and pitches for an open-ended prescription entitlement plan for seniors. It looks as if they'll be frustrated, however, for the Iraq debate is likely to last into October, cutting into their campaign time.
They got out of the manger just in time, for a new pack of dogs arrived to fill it. These are our erstwhile friends and allies on the Security Council. Saddam Hussein figured he would derail Bush's momentum by offering to accept U.N. weapons inspectors "unconditionally." The Momentum had been building for a tough "or-else" resolution in the Security Council in the wake of Bush's speech to the U.N. the week before. Saddam's calculation was right. The momentum abruptly stopped with the delivery of the Iraqi letter. Kofi Annan announced it with a figurative "Phew" -- as if "the Iraq problem" were suddenly ended. Russia, China and France all sang a new tune. The objective now, they say, is to get the inspectors back in as quickly as possible. Anything to stall Bush's action plan.
There was much comment that we aren't sure Saddam really has weapons of mass destruction or that he is years away from producing nuclear bombs. These dogs in the manager are still baying.
Meanwhile, the facts are hard to dispute. Late last week, Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control and Dr. Khidar Hamza, an Iraqi nuclear engineer who defected to the West, testified before the House Armed Services Committee. They made it clear that 80 to 90 percent of Iraq's nuclear program equipment is U.S.-made, sold by overseas agents. Export controls and the business imperative to sell are often in conflict. In the Clinton years, commerce usually won, tied as it was to campaign donations.
Dr. Hamza related a case where Iraq asked a U.S. company for a particular piece of equipment. "We can't sell it to you," they were told, "but you can get it from our Singapore subsidiary." He also told of Saddam's effective Counter-monitoring Unit, set up specifically to thwart the inspectors of UNSCOM. He noted that every laboratory facility had a duplicate back-up site. When the Iraqis got wind of a particular inspection target, this unit rushed ahead and moved the equipment and scientists to the back-up site. The UNSCOM inspectors arrived to find nothing to arouse their suspicions. It reminds one of the fox in the hen house saying to the farmer, "Nobody here but us chickens."
Dr. Hamza estimates that Saddam will be able to produce two or three nuclear weapons within approximately three years, but qualified that to say that we don't know if the three-year time span started some time ago.
All of this argues for a tough U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at disarming Iraq, not another endless -- and fruitless -- round of inspection programs. Why do the Russians, Chinese and French like the latter and not the former? It would stall the demolition of the Saddam Hussein regime at a time when the Russians and French are each owed billions by Iraq, and the Chinese have found Iraq a lucrative market for gadgets needed by Saddam's "WMD" program. These dogs are likely to stay in the manger.