How Saddam plans to weasel out.

How Saddam plans to weasel out.

How Saddam plans to weasel out.

Politics and policy.
Nov. 25 2002 6:10 PM

Bagh of Tricks, Part 2

How Saddam plans to weasel out.

By Dec. 8, Iraq has pledged to disclose the extent of its weapons of mass destruction. So far, against all evidence, it says it has none. Rather than divulge and surrender these weapons, Saddam Hussein has endured a decade of sanctions. Now he faces a U.N. Security Council resolution that implicitly threatens war, at least by the United States, if he lies again. The resolution has been tightly drawn to deprive Saddam of the loopholes he has exploited in the past. How will he weasel out of it? This weekend's letter from the Iraqi government to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan offers some clues.

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1. They're not lies. They're "inaccuracies." The letter says it's unfair to accuse Iraq of a "material breach" of the resolution—i.e., a violation sufficient to justify war—merely for issuing "inaccurate statements" about its weapons programs. After all, says the letter, "there are thousands of pages to be presented in those statements," which might result in Iraq accidentally "leaving out some information."

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

2. We're bound by the resolution's principles, not its rules. The resolution opens with nods to "international peace and security" and "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq." It then lays down specific demands. The principles are easier to fudge and exploit than the demands are, so Iraq says it will follow the former rather than the latter. The demands stated in the resolution's fourth paragraph don't serve "the declared goals of the Security Council," according to the letter, and the demands stated in the fifth and seventh paragraphs could be used for "purposes not related to the declared aims of the council's resolutions." Furthermore, says the letter, the resolution imposes "obligations" on the United Nations, including "respecting Iraq's sovereignty and security, and respecting its national interests."

3. The resolution violates fundamental U.N. rules. The resolution orders Iraq to grant wide latitude to the U.N. Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The letter says the powers given to these agencies in the case of Iraq "do not agree with their international work, which requires that they respect the sovereignty of countries they work in and the countries' laws and human rights according to the U.N. charter." Look up the charters of UNMOVIC, the IAEA, and the United Nations, and you'll see why Iraq wants to shift the debate to those documents. They're riddled with conditions and exploitable vagueness.

4. The resolution violates arms control precedents. "There are adopted standards in international agreements to achieve the goal of disarming," says the letter. It suggests that these standards void certain powers given to the inspectors in Iraq, including "meeting people inside their country without the presence of a representative of their government ... [getting] a list of names of all scientists and researchers of the country, [bringing] into the country U.N. guards to protect the sites of inspection teams, [and] giving inspectors the authority to bring in and out of the country whatever they want [in terms] of equipment without informing the government of the country they are working in."

5. Any rule whose violation justifies war was designed for that purpose. The letter describes several demands in the resolution as "pretexts" for war. Like a driver caught in a speed trap, Iraq plans to argue that the rules have been rigged to manufacture crimes and prosecutions. War, not Iraq, is the real enemy, the letter suggests. It appeals to "peace-loving countries" to rein in overzealous inspectors.

6. Don't trust the cops. Like Johnnie Cochran, Saddam knows that the best way to deflect scrutiny from the defendant is to put the police on trial. The inspectors are too well regarded to be charged with malice, so Iraq instead accuses the United States of manipulating them. According to the letter, the resolution "gives some countries pretexts to interfere in [the inspectors'] work, subjecting them to the pressure and desires and claims of specific countries, first of all the United States, which has aggressive goals."

The purpose of the resolution, as conceived by the Bush administration, is to force Saddam to choose between compliance and defiance. He wants a third option: defiance in the guise of compliance. If the preceding arguments give the Security Council enough of an excuse to drag its heels on authorizing war, he'll have succeeded.