Time to Shape Up or Ship out.(COMMENTARY)

Article excerpt

Byline: Frank Gaffney Jr., THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In the U.S. military - an organization Colin Powell knows well - actively defying the commander in chief has a name. It is called "insubordination," and an officer who engages in it can incur a court-martial and involuntary separation from the armed forces, or worse.

Of course, things are different at the State Department. In Foggy Bottom, undermining presidential policy not favored by the career bureaucracy is pretty much a full-time job.

Thus we have the spectacle of Secretary of State Powell taking to the airwaves publicly to disagree with the core strategic decision enunciated twice in a week by Mr. Bush's top surrogate, Vice President Richard B. Cheney. Mr. Cheney declared forthrightly, "A return of inspectors [to Iraq] "would provide no assurance whatsoever of compliance with U.N. resolutions. On the contrary, there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam [Hassam] was somehow 'back in his box.'"

We know, as does Mr. Powell, that the Cheney text was personally vetted, edited and approved by President Bush.

Yet Mr. Powell told the BBC last week that "the president has been clear that he believes weapons inspectors should return. Iraq has been in violation of many U.N. resolutions for most of the last 11 or so years. And so, as a first step, let's see what the inspectors find."

Now, this is not a matter of some small tactical disagreement, let alone - as White House spokesman Ari Fleischer would have us believe - one of no disagreement at all. The question of whether the return of inspectors to Iraq must be a "first step" toward resolving the issue there or whether it would amount to a march into a diplomatic cul-de-sac from which there would be no exit for the president's policy of regime change is a first-order strategic one. And it is, at root, a question of judgment.

Unfortunately, it is not the first time Mr. Powell's strategic judgment has been wanting.

Most relevant to the present strategic decision, he repeatedly and assiduously asserted in 1990 that economic sanctions were the appropriate policy response to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. When Mr. Bush's father determined otherwise and took the United States to war, then-Gen. Powell was a prime-mover behind the decision to allow Saddam's praetorian Republican Guard to escape the killing fields of the so-called Highway of Death. Many Iraqi units were then allowed to avoid capture and forcible disarmament.

To be sure, Mr. Powell was not alone in adopting these stances. In each case, he had plenty of company, particularly among the foreign policy, political and media elite. The same is true today, not only concerning the idea that inspectors can meaningfully contribute to a resolution of the danger posed by Saddam's regime, but that the United States can - nay, must - secure U. …