Surprise! He´s winning (NEW YORK DAILYNEWS) Michael Kramer 12/04/02)
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Wherever he is, Saddam Hussein is surely smiling - and with good
As the UN weapons inspections begin, Iraq is winning the PR war.
Wherever the inspectors have gone so far, they have been graciously
greeted by Saddam´s toadies, and news crews have been there to record
President Bush nevertheless says the early signs of Iraq´s compliance
are "not encouraging." But most everyone else, including America´s
staunchest allies, sees it differently.
"Bush decided it was politically smart to go through the UN, and he´s
now fallen into Saddam´s trap," says a senior Kuwaiti
official. "Saddam is playing the good guy very well. We can´t count
on his blocking the inspectors. He´s too clever for that."
So scratch one reason for war: Those who predicted Iraq would stiff
the inspectors have been proven wrong, at least so far.
Which leaves two other reasons to justify the battle Bush seems eager
The first, the possibility that the inspectors actually might find
something, has always been the longest shot of all. Their
predecessors rarely found anything. And since the inspections stopped
four years ago, Saddam has had more than enough time to hide whatever
bad stuff he has. Certainly, cosmetic intrusions like the two-hour
walk-through of one of Saddam´s presidential palaces yesterday have
zero chance of turning up anything not in plain sight.
The inspectors still might stumble on something, and perhaps a brave
Iraqi will rat out Saddam. But neither possibility seems likely,
which is why administration hawks such as Vice President Cheney and
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld always have maintained that
inspections are a waste of time.
Which leaves the final potential justification to fight: the War of
By Sunday, Iraq must supply a complete list of its weapons of mass
destruction - and anything that could be used in their manufacture.
Baghdad says it will beat that deadline by a day, but a Saddam lackey
has indicated again that Iraq is clean.
That insistence will set up the list war. The U.S. has its own
compilation of Iraq´s bad stuff. If anything the U.S. knows isn´t on
Baghdad´s list, Bush will interpret that as proof that Saddam "has
decided to [not] cooperate willingly and comply completely," that
he "has rejected the path of peace," that he has not "changed his
behavior of the past 11 years" and that waiting for him to disarm
voluntarily would be a pipe dream.
That decision will itself take time. Even if Iraq admits nothing, its
declaration will be long and extensive. Translating and assessing it
will not be done overnight.
The crunch will come when the U.S. announces its conclusions.
"We´ve got two problems," says a Bush adviser. "First, how
extensively, if at all, do we share our list with the inspectors?
We´d like to catch the Iraqis lying, but we don´t want to put our
sources of intelligence at risk. And if Saddam is really as good at
hiding things as we assume, our case could be undermined if we wait
for the inspectors to go where we want them to go and they still
don´t find anything because it´s all been moved.
"Second, everyone else will be assessing the Iraqi list, too. Many of
them - the countries that are perfectly happy with the status quo -
will argue that Iraq has complied, that Saddam´s list is complete.
They will say there´s no reason for war and start a huge debate at
the UN to stay any military action."
All this means that Bush soon may be where he was at the start:
alone. The President has gotten high marks for working with the UN,
but all that will be forgotten if he pushes the button when most
every other nation says he shouldn´t.
And then? "And then, if he goes to war, only the results will
matter," says a Qatari official involved in readying his country for
use as an American war-fighting headquarters. "If the war is
successful - and quick - all the bitching won´t matter. If it bogs
down, there will be hell to pay. But frankly, that would be the case
even if the Security Council endorses a fight. At the end of the day,
this war will be like all others: Victory will be its own
justification." (© 2002 Daily News, L.P. 12/04/02)
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