TCS Daily

More Than Inspections

By Greg Buete - November 8, 2002 12:00 AM

Almost two months elapsed between President Bush's appearance before the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council vote to enforce a bushel of resolutions against Iraq. This has left many proponents of regime change worried. Why, they wonder, has Bush entered into this time consuming charade with the UN? It's hard enough getting 9 of 15 votes from the UN Security Council on any issue. But when veto-holding members Russia and France are also Iraq's biggest trading partners it's near impossible to pass a meaningful resolution to punish Saddam Hussein's regime of obstruction. Heck, throw Colin Powell and UN Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix into the equation and you might as well send Jimmy Carter to Iraq to build Saddam a pair of nuclear reactors, right?

Those opposed to dealing with the UN fear that Bush will be sucked into the same nightmare weapons inspections fiasco that we were in from 1991 through 1998. Some worry that the mere fact that Bush approached the UN could indicate that we'll be restricted in our actions.

Bush has his reasons for going to the UN. It certainly silenced Democratic opposition, and by doing so may have given Mr. Bush the Congress he needs to get things done, including in Iraq both during and after the war. It also allows the Arab world to save face. In this manner Bush assures that Kuwait, Turkey and a few other crucial allies in geographic relation to Iraq will allow our military their bases and airspace. It provides them with the excuse of international law to calm the "Arab street"; it doesn't matter if "international law" is largely a myth, it only matters that they believe it true.

While all is not certain, Bush now appears to be in a win-win situation. Provided Bush doesn't allow the UN or Iraq to mince words or play legal games now that the resolution has passed. If the US determines that Saddam is further defying the law, all apologists will be out of excuses. Should the UN balk, Bush can always say he tried and "go it alone," or even form his own coalition, which he's often threatened.

The past month has been an obvious attempt by France and Russia to delay a vote on the resolution in the hopes that over time, American support for a war will decline, thus protecting French and Russian investments. Seeing the writing on the wall, it's not a coincidence that they finally relented on a resolution right after Tuesday's election. Of course, timing could still become an issue. Iraq now has seven days to notify the UN of its intentions to comply. After that, Iraq has 30 days to file an accurate inventory of its weapons of mass destruction. Hans Blix has 45 days to begin inspections and within 60 days of starting must issue a formal report to the Security Council, although he could give evidence of Iraqi non-compliance at any time. Still, even then the US must go back to the Security Council to consult, but not vote, on action should Iraq not comply or be found obstructing inspections. Assuming a worst-case scenario where the UN delays if Iraq does not comply it could be several months before the US could take military action. That's a long time, and most importantly it could mean that the Iraqi summer is on the doorstep.

Most troublesome to many advocates of regime change is having to rely on the reporting of Hans Blix - a reluctant policeman investigating a scene that will probably begin a war. Blix wants to be an impartial observer, but there's nothing impartial about searching for weapons in a military dictatorship with a history of obstruction. It's Blix's job to find the weapons, not be a neutral observer and he has assured the US that he will do his job well.

But even if Blix stalled for time, Bush would be unlikely to let one minute pass that he, his team, and the Pentagon haven't already figured into the timetable. It is reasonable to think that the US has planned for these scenarios. Even Colin Powell asserted this recently saying, "Some can argue it can take months and months and months and months for the inspectors to look at everything they want to look at, but we will know early on whether or not Iraq is intending to cooperate." Powell reiterated that if the UN chose not to act the US would.

While it's not what the Bush team originally wanted, UNSC resolution on Iraq, version 3.0, still has plenty of teeth. The inspectors will be able to search eight presidential compounds - over 1000 buildings - that previously were off limits. Inspectors will also have the authority to interview Iraqi scientists and engineers, with their families, outside of Iraq in order to ensure Saddam may not intimidate them or threaten their lives.

It's important to not that this is not just about weapons inspections. There is another obvious Iraqi infraction that Bush has mentioned several times. If you look for it this demand is buried indirectly in the new resolution: ceasing oil smuggling and illegal surplus charges.

Bush first mentioned it before the UN on September 12.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program. It will accept UN administration of funds from that program, to ensure that the money is used fairly and promptly for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

Since September 12, Bush has repeated this demand to cease illegal oil activities at least twice, on October 7 and October 16.

That was the most significant demand, but not the only one. In all three speeches Bush stated more demands that Iraq must comply with in order to ensure a peaceful conclusion: Iraq must release or account for all Gulf War personnel, return all stolen Kuwaiti property, accept liability for losses from invading Kuwait, cease persecution of its civilian population, and immediately end all support for terrorism and act to suppress it.
Some of these Saddam might do, but asking Saddam to end all illegal oil smuggling and surcharges is like asking Michael Jackson to stop being odd. It's just not going to happen, at least not for very long. Both the CIA and British intelligence have reported that Saddam Hussein earns $3 billion annually through illegal oil exports. He then puts this money directly into his weapons program. He's not going to give that up without a fight.
Now, sure, some of the beneficiaries of this cheap oil include the Kurds (whose territory the oil passes through), Turkey, Syria and then eventually French and Russian oil companies. Of course, Russia then just jacks up the price and resells it to us, but that's not the point. The point is that a US president is finally demanding the practice stop and that if it doesn't stop we're going to use it as a trigger for regime change.

Ironically, those countries that help Iraq smuggle oil might be speeding Saddam Hussein's demise. Both the demand for this cheap oil and the money Saddam earns for his weapons program are simply too great for either party to ignore. If Saddam ceases the smuggling even temporarily it will be costly; his complex internal security apparatus doesn't come cheap.

This new resolution is constructed to enforce all previous resolutions including UNSCR 986, which created the UN oil-for-food program. UN sanctions and the UN oil-for-food program dictate how much oil can be exported by Iraq, and how the proceeds must be spent. The UN must clear all goods entering and exiting Iraq. If Iraq is in violation of UNSCR 986 or another export-related resolution - and it is - then the US will have the right to press for military action and the UN will find itself in a snare trying to excuse it. Unlike weapons inspections, the oil smuggling is difficult to conceal. Actually, that's an understatement. Former CIA operative Bob Baer wrote in his book "See No Evil" that "trucks carrying oil were lined up bumper to bumper, often for as long as twenty miles, waiting to cross into Turkey." Sometimes that Iraqi convoy would stretch for 70 miles.

The point here is that weapons inspections are not the only tool at our disposal. In addition to weapons inspections Bush may be using the smuggling issue to set up an end-around showdown with Iraq. Going to the UN may not have been palatable to some, but Bush is covering all his political bases and using every option available. Just one week ago both the resolution and elections were in doubt. But on Friday Russia, France and even Syria joined to pass it. Not a bad week for Bush. He has played politics well; he's making the UN eat its words, and he's giving Saddam the rope with which to hang himself. Over the past two years, the more people underestimate Bush the better he does. Iraq will prove no exception.



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