Kofi's Choice - September 23, 2002
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's praise of Saddam's offer of "unconditional" inspections may prove to be one colossal blunder. He has, however unintentionally, managed to put the Bush administration in the catbird seat.
It seems that the secretary-general couldn't wait to run to the microphone to tell the world of Saddam's extraordinary capitulation. But what Kofi actually succeeded in doing was to diminish even further his own declining credibility.
Virtually no informed person would ever believe that a dictator who has turned his back on billions of dollars in oil revenues to avoid inspections, and who also has a long history of deception and trickery, has suddenly changed his mind.
We've seen this duo at work together before. After the Gulf War, Saddam and Kofi put on a similar inspection show. And just as before, Iraq has already backtracked, causing serious questions to surface about the legitimacy of Saddam's latest offer.
Iraq's behavior is often characterized in terms of the U.N. resolutions it has violated. But others have breached U.N. resolutions with impunity. For this reason, it is important to distinguish Iraq from other nations.
When the Gulf War ended, a cease-fire was negotiated. It was directly conditioned upon Saddam Hussein's agreeing to a list of covenants and conditions.
The breach of these international promises transcends the U.N. and its resolutions. It reflects a standard of international law that predates the U.N. the simple, time-honored maxim that says promises must be kept.
Promises made by a sovereign nation at the end of a conflict have an obvious impact on the way nations relate to each other. Hugo Grotius, the father of international law, considered this kind of contract to be one of the highest binding principles.
No other nation has violated such a pact in the manner in which Iraq has. Saddam is a defeated foe who has openly defied the accord, the same one that mercifully allowed him to continue in power. This explains why a significant portion of the Iraqi skies has been under military occupation by allied forces.
Does a defeated nation have to comply with covenants and conditions that it made to a body that overpowered it militarily? The way this question is answered creates a precedent that is critical for the United States and the entire world.
The idea that we have to wait for Baghdad to give us a new reason to enforce broken assurances is absurd. The resolutions from 1991 set forth all that Saddam agreed to. The fact is he has remained in continuous violation ever since, and has done so unilaterally.
There is also a fundamental misunderstanding concerning the inspection protocol. The resolutions that called for inspections were primarily about disarmament. They were never intended to be implemented with a hide-and-seek game in play. They were created for the express purpose of confirming that Saddam had disposed of his weapons of mass destruction. Cooperation was a mandatory part of the deal.
When Saddam claims that he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction, and all indications are to the contrary, it becomes clear that no kind of inspections are ever going to work. How dangerous would it be to wait until another inspection field trip fails? God only knows.
Under Kofi Annan's leadership, the U.N. has proven to be an incompetent organization at a minimum. Nonetheless, this inept body may just serve some useful purposes after all.
First, it may expose the fact that many Democrat senators have long sought to strip authority and decision-making away from America and hand it over to the U.N.
Second, it may help us to get some useful military bases in Saudi Arabia.
And most importantly, Kofi and Co. have likely given the Bush administration a victory in the larger debate over Iraq. By setting up Saddam's counterfeit offer as some sort of breakthrough, all that the administration has to do now is prove that Iraq never really put forward an offer of unfettered inspections.
By making this case, the U.S. will have set up both Kofi Annan and Saddam Hussein. The U.N. will have to give the U.S. what it wants, in terms of a new resolution. If it doesn't, it will face further shrinkage on the world stage as the U.S. goes forward anyway.