Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Well, Iraq's offer to allow inspectors in appears to be catching the Bush administration flat footed, if this AP piece is accurate:

U.S. President George W. Bush said today the United Nations Security Council "must not be fooled" by Iraq's promise of unfettered weapons inspections. He told wavering world leaders to maintain pressure on President Saddam Hussein to disarm.

"You can't be fooled again," the president said as his administration sought to head off attempts by Saddam to rally support at the UN. Privately, Bush advisers said Saddam may be getting the upper hand in the public relations war.

Noting that Iraq has repeatedly made and broken similar pledges since the Gulf War, Bush said: "You've got to understand the nature of the regime we're dealing with. This is a man who has delayed, denied, deceived the world. For the sake of liberty and justice for all, the United Nations Security Council must act - must act in a way to hold this regime to account, must not be fooled, must be relevant to keep the peace."

The strong words came after Russia - a powerful veto-holding member of the Security Council - said a new resolution is unnecessary now that inspectors were welcomed back.
This was and is the achilles heel of the new Bush attempt to co-opt the U.N... the focus on enforcing existing security council resolutions and on WMDs can be neatly circumvented by Saddam simply saying "go ahead and bring them in". Indeed, I think that the Iraqi regime might actually be honest in their offer, because while Saddam is almost definitely intent on becoming a nuclear power, he knows that his regime is at stake here. By allowing the inspectors in, he renews the division between the U.S. (which has designs upon Iraq that only obliquely involve the WMD issue) and the U.N. (which is largely concerned with WMDs, and is hardly interested in granting the U.S. the control over world oil prices that control of Iraq would entail.) It's certainly in his own best interests.

This leaves the Bush administration in somewhat of a bind. Bush can't simply retract his reaching out to the U.N. without looking foolish, untrustworth, and erratic, so a successful return of U.N. inspectors to Iraq would preclude an invasion. Nor can he easily dismiss Iraq's latest gesture. Those lame accusations and protestations aside, there's no way that the French, Russians, or Chinese are going to dismiss Iraq's invitation of inspectors on a U.S. say-so. The best that the U.S. can hope for at this point is a new resolution- the U.N. endorsement of invasion and regime change is out of the question, unless Iraqi officials are far dumber than they've proven themselves to be up to this point.

What bothers me is that this was and is utterly predictable, and should have been anticipated well in advance by the administration. Far from being the masterstroke of politics that it has been characterized as by the media, it looks like Bush's Sept. 12 speech has just allowed Iraq an "out" that Bush can't readily deal with. Perhaps those cries of "brilliant maneuvering" were a little hasty. Instead of finally realizing its ambitions, the administration looks to be hoist by its own petard.

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