The Reason for War Is Already Established

Article excerpt

HE Bush administration has made a major mistake in allowing the United Nations inspectors to be depicted as detectives in Iraq. It was never their purpose to hunt down Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as last month's UN resolution makes clear. The UN called on Saddam to come clean about his WMD by making a full and complete declaration of his arsenal so that the inspectors could then locate its constituent parts and destroy them one by one.

They are not meant to be on a wild goose chase, hoping to stumble across a vial of anthrax. But that is what the world thinks they are doing, and because they have yet to discover what is euphemistically called a "smoking gun", it is almost universally believed that America and its allies do not have the casus belli for going to war - and are unlikely to get one before the early spring heat of the Iraqi desert makes military intervention more difficult.

The prospect of invading without the weapons inspectors discovering even vestigial WDM capabilities has already caused Tony Blair, President Bush's most reliable ally, to come out in a cold sweat. The London air was thick with the sound of gears going into reverse last week as stories appeared suggesting that Britain wanted America to postpone action until the autumn and spin-doctors briefed feverishly that 27 January - when the inspectors will present their first report on Iraq's weapons capability - was not a deadline. If they report that the cupboard is bare, then Mr Blair knows he will split his party - even his government - asunder if America nevertheless goes to war and Britain joins it.

Hence the British prime minister's emphasis on the need to find evidence to justify action, the assurances he gave his cabinet on Thursday that there were "no deadlines" that would trigger war and declarations from 10 Downing Street spinners that the inspectors "must be given the time and space they need to do their job".

These are the words of a government going wobbly: even with the discovery of a so-called "smoking gun" it would have been hard enough for Mr Blair to carry his party in the cause of war (even a gun glowing bright green with nuclear radiation would not convince many on the Labour left); without one he has no chance.

The Bush administration must take the blame for finding its most loyal ally now at odds with it. Perhaps because President Bush never really intended to work through the UN in the first place, he and his advisers never paid enough attention to the game plan and tactics that would follow. The Bush administration is in no doubt that Saddam is already in "material breach" of the 8 November UN resolution by refusing to reveal its WMD capabilities in the copious paperwork it has handed over, which is bereft of any revelation. The Bush administration is right. But it has allowed the world to think that Saddam does not need to volunteer the information and that the inspectors must root out his WDM arsenal themselves before military action can be justified.

The United States needs to state plainly the reality of Iraq's existing breach of the November resolution and to make it clear that military action does not depend on the inspectors' detective work proving successful. Washington (and London) will have to realise that the UN inspectors will likely have discovered nothing by the time they make their 27 January report in New York. They have been sent on a mission impossible (Saddam has long ago spirited away any evidence of WMD), but the growing peace party will seize on the inspectors' lack of progress to argue that any Anglo-American intervention would be beyond the pale. …