Hans Blix, the Swedish lawyer who is chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Observation Commission -- in other words, the chief weapons inspector -- has urged Saddam Hussein to come clean about any Iraqi programs to develop chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Saddam has until December 8 to turn in an accounting to the U.N. Last week he agreed to do so, but will he? Can shrimps whistle?
Come December 8 he will likely do as he has done with U.N. resolutions for 11 years: harrumph, obfuscate and play cat-and-mouse. His "accounting" of programs of weapons of mass destruction ("WMD" in Defense Department lingo) will probably take the line used by the fox in the hen house, "Nobody here but us chickens."
If, after his 1991 Desert Storm defeat following the Kuwait invasion, Saddam had neither weapons of mass destruction nor programs to obtain them, he had nothing to hide. Why, then, did he spend 11 years dodging and weaving every time the U.N. weapons inspectors sallied forth? The answer: He did have something to hide.
Last month, testifying before a Congressional committee, an Iraqi nuclear engineer who defected in 1998 (about when Saddam kicked out the last of the inspectors) said that Saddam created a counter-inspection unit to precede the U.N. inspectors whenever they were about to visit a suspected site, quickly moving the scientists and their equipment to a secret duplicate site elsewhere. According to his testimony, the Iraqi regime had created a number of such "cloned" sites.
Another of his revelations was that, up to the time he left, the Germans had sold Saddam more equipment for a nuclear program than all other countries combined. It is also now known that the French, Russians and Chinese have been active vendors to the Iraqis, which explains, in part, why they were so hesitant to sign on to the U.S.-British resolution to force Saddam to finally disarm.
While we got our resolution, time is working against us. On December 27, 19 days after Saddam's deadline for turning in the weapons program "accounting," U.N. inspectors will begin their work. They are to report their findings to the Security Council no later than January 27. Although Blix insists the U.N. inspection teams will not again tolerate a cat-and-mouse game by Saddam, it will either happen or their inspections will turn up nothing significant, the evidence having been well hidden between now and the time that the inspections begin.
On the other hand, if the inspectors do turn up suspicious evidence, the Security Council will debate -- ad nauseam -- whether it constitutes "a material breach" of the resolution. Count on the French, Russians and Chinese to keep that one going for a while.
Military experts say that if one is to launch a campaign in that part of the world, it must be done between December and March. After that, the weather is increasingly bad for men and machines.
Let's assume the Council finally decides Iraq is found guilty of being naughty -- or something fuzzier. This would occur in, say, late February. That leaves little time for launching an offensive. Meanwhile, the American left will have conducted more "peace" marches, blathered that "It's all about oil," and some of our European "allies" will have carried on about not doing anything rash, such as stopping Saddam from doing what everyone has known all along that he's been doing. All of this will make George W. Bush's job tougher, but, as we have seen on several occasions since he took office, he doesn't let obstacles stand in his way.
Saddam remains a threat, if not immediately, then not far off, either for the purpose of carrying out international blackmail or supplying terrorists with WMDs. Given a choice between allowing the threat to grow or eliminating it, one guess as to the choice Bush will make.