Powell lays out case for war, but Security Council mostly unconvinced

Colin Powell
Secretary of State Colin Powell presents the United States’ evidence against Iraq to the Security Council.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell attempted to lay out the case for war against Iraq, using tape recordings, photographs and diagrams in an attempt to persuade a reluctant U.N. Security Council that war is the only answer to deal with Saddam Hussein’s defiance of UNSCR 1441. (A transcript of his speech is available here.) China, Russia and France, however, remained skeptical that war was the answer.
Still, Powell was good with his 90-minute presentation. The New York Times said, “Mr. Powell’s presentation was all the more convincing because he dispensed with apocalyptic invocations of a struggle of good and evil and focused on shaping a sober, factual case against Mr. Hussein’s regime. It may not have produced a ‘smoking gun,’ but it left little question that Mr. Hussein had tried hard to conceal one.” This presentation was the rhetorical equivalent of the Powell Docrine: Go in with overwhelming force.
But there was little in the presentation that came as a surprise. Powell made a strong case that Iraq was not cooperating with UMOVIC and not disarming. “Saddam Hussein and his regime are doing everything they can to make sure the inspectors find absolutely nothing,” he told the Council and used taped intercepts from November and January that he says demonstrate that the Iraqis are hiding prohibited items to thwart inspectors’ efforts. Scientists have been threatened and spies installed on the UNMOVIC teams. What was most significant about the presentation was the degree that it relied on recent data, with much of the satellite photos having been taken in November mere days before the weapons inspectors returned to Iraq.
“Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein has used such weapons. And Saddam Hussein has no compunction about using them again, against his neighbors and against his own people,” Powell said.
I’m not going to get into the standard answer to these charges. Of course, Saddam has chemical weapons and biological weapons. Many might say this didn’t bother the United States when it was arming Saddam and providing his army with intelligence to rain death down on the Iranians during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. And many might wish that the Reagan and first Bush administrations had been more forceful in their condemnation when Saddam was gassing the Kurds of Halabja. Be that as it may, this is now.
Turning to nuclear weapons however, Powell’s case begins to shake a little. “We have more than a decade of proof that he remains determined to acquire nuclear weapons.” Powell says, admitting implicitly that Saddam’s goal remains unfulfilled. If Powell was attempting to make a case for war based on Iraq’s nuclear ambitions, he actually made the case for stronger sanctions. He lays out all the ways that Iraq’s plans were foiled either through inspectors or defectors or interception of communications. In short, he admits that while Iraq is seeking a bomb, it does not have one. The (probably unintended) implication is that Saddam will not get one, either, while the U.N. watches so closely.
And when Powell turns to links to al Qa’ida, the case begins to wobble badly. It all rests on the shoulders of Abu Musab Al-Zarqwi, whom Powel calls a high-ranking Qa’ida member based in northeastern Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan.) As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Baghdad’s backing of Ansar al-Islam is hardly a solid link to al Qa’ida. Splinter groups opposed to the Kurds are funded by every enemy of the PUK and KDP, including Iran and Turkey. Ansar may be an al Qa’ida affiliate — it’s certainly inspired by Osama bin Laden’s Islamo-fascism — but few members of the security council are willing to go to war over Ansar, especially since if the group were such a threat, the United States could have wiped it out long ago with a series of bombings out of Incirlik Air Base or a surgical strike by SpecOps. Instead, the United States seems to be allowing the group to harass the Kurds of northeastern Iraq so that it can point to the group whenever it needs an Iraq-Qa’ida connection.
In all, Powell presented nothing really new, and nothing that will likely produce a flocking to the United States’ side from the permanent members of the Council. In fact, skeptics, such as France and Russia, still see the U.S. case as unproven. Tang Jiaxuan, Chinese Foreign Minister, said, “”[UN weapons inspectors] are not in a position to draw conclusions and they have suggested continuing the inspections. We should respect their views […] and support the continuation of their work.”
“This information has to be immediately handed over for processing by the IAEA through on-site verification during the inspections in Iraq,” added Igor Ivanov, Russian Foreign Minister. “Experts in our countries must immediately get down to analysing and drawing the appropriate conclusions.”
And Dominique de Villepin, French Foreign Minister, ever sniffy, said, “For now we must reinforce the inspection regime. The use of force can only be a final resort.”
So. There is little doubt that Iraq is guilty and in breach of UNSCR 1441, at least as far as having chemical weapons is concerned. That’s not really the issue, and even France, our not-ally, has signed on to the greater goal of disarming Saddam. The question is really, how does the world sentence the guilty?