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Still waiting for proof
The UN weapons inspectors’ report is just one step in the long march to war

AT LONG LAST, Hans Blix has delivered his report on Iraqi weapons to the United Nations. The report has a little something for everyone in it — be they antiwar or in favor of a forced Iraqi "regime change." The report is much harsher on Iraq than anyone supposed it would be. In testimony before the United Nations Security Council Monday, Blix plainly stated that Iraq has cooperated only "grudgingly" with the inspections process: "Unlike South Africa, which decided on its own to eliminate its nuclear weapons and welcomed inspections as a means of creating confidence in its disarmament, Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance — not even today — of the disarmament, which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace."

At the same time, Blix noted that Iraq had cooperated with the weapons-inspection process: "The most important point to make is that access has been provided to all sites we have wanted to inspect, and with one exception it has been prompt." (That said, Blix also made it clear that Iraq refused to allow inspectors opportunity to interview scientists without government officials present.)

Still, Blix found no evidence that Hussein has disarmed Iraq of agents of chemical and biological warfare. While Hussein has said that Iraq’s production of the nerve agent VX, for example, was of poor quality, weapons inspectors found evidence of just the opposite. As Secretary of State Colin Powell stated Monday, "Where is the missing anthrax? This is not just a question of historical curiosity; it is essential for us to know what happened [to] this deadly material. Where is the VX? Also not a trivial question." At the same time, none of this is the same as finding a smoking gun.

The Blix report is clearly another step in an international process that will likely lead to war unless Hussein does an abrupt turnaround or goes into exile. With even a peace broker like Powell rattling the saber, it’s clear where the administration is headed. After the report was released, Powell said: "I’m a great believer in diplomacy and a great believer in finding a peaceful solution. But I also recognize that when somebody will not accept a peaceful solution by doing their part of creating a peaceful solution, one must never rule out the use of force...."

Whether Powell’s convictions have truly changed or whether he’s simply adjusting his rhetoric to bring it more in line with the president’s is almost irrelevant. The point is that the Bush administration’s sole voice of moderation has modified itself and is now talking about war.

Germany proposed giving the weapons inspectors until February 14 to file another report with the UN. British prime minister Tony Blair, who is the president’s chief international backer, is said to support the idea. That means our increasingly inevitable-seeming war with Iraq wouldn’t start for at least another month. Of course, as a practical matter, it will take about that long to move the rest of our troops and military equipment into place. But we can expect Bush to pull the trigger anytime after that. We can only hope that, by then, the case for war will have been made solidly. He certainly didn’t do it in Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech (see "Altered State," page one). There’s no question that it’s a good idea to give the inspectors more time to finish their job. Such a delay might be enough to get Germany, Russia, and other nations currently opposed to war with Iraq on board.

All that said, like many others, we’re still wondering what’s to be gained by going to war with Iraq. As we’ve said before (see "Where’s the Proof?", Editorial, October 11, 2002), we want to see the administration lay out solid evidence. Something along the lines of United Nations ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s dramatic unveiling of photos proving a Soviet missile build-up in Cuba in 1962. In October, the Bush administration unveiled spy-satellite photos of a nuclear facility bombed by the United States in 1998 that has been rebuilt. But the photo didn’t show us what was inside the building, nor did the Bush administration tell us what was in the building, if it even knew. Still, the Bush administration claims to have proof of Hussein’s ability to inflict massive casualties upon an innocent public. So let’s see it. Such proof, at minimum, is needed before a case can be made for going to war in the most politically unstable region in the world.

Bush’s defenders and champions frequently cite the president’s adherence to moral imperatives. Well, the president is under a moral imperative to explain what he’s doing and why, particularly when so many lives are at risk.

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Issue Date: January 30 - February 6, 2003
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