Reprinted from the New York Times of February 24, 1998
Saddam Hussein would accept the "diplomatic solution" being offered to him by the United Nations, including the United States, because he could not ever dream up a softer deal for himself. I thought and wrote that, but amendment is now needed. The Secretary General of the U.N. and the President of the U.S. have made it an importantly better deal for Saddam.
The President did it two ways. He pretended that Saddam's new promise not to prevent U.N. weapons inspectors from searching where they wished was somehow different from all the similar promises he has made and broken since 1991. The President also agreed that diplomats appointed by the five permanent members of the Security Council could accompany the U.N.'s inspectors to Iraq's "presidential sites." That means Russia, France and China, Saddam's allies at the U.N., will have political appointees tagging after and second-guessing the U.N. professionals. He made himself look vapid by not conceding that that was a concession to Saddam.
The Secretary General: By what Kofi Annan said or failed to say he treated the Iraqi dictatorship as the moral equivalent of the U.S. and other countries that are still trying to find and destroy Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. In not one of his public comments or interviews did the chief official of the U.N. remind the Iraqi people that the world organization he represents had approved and backed the 1991 war against Saddam because he was a danger to the world, very much including them.
Nor did Mr. Annan remind them that after the gulf war, to prevent Saddam from ever again using weapons of mass destruction, as he had against Iraqis, the U.N. created the weapons-inspection system Saddam was trying to destroy. He never spoke two core realities to the Iraqis. The reason he was in Baghdad in the first place was Saddam's broken promises to permit full inspection. And they were the reason Iraqi lives were threatened by American bombs.
The only time he got into the question of responsibility was when he said that U.N. inspectors as well as the Iraqi security men who surround them had caused problems in the inspection process. U.N. records have detailed reports of Saddam's security squads blocking U.N. inspectors from getting into suspected sites scores of times, shoving them around, even throttling a U.N. pilot to prevent him from spotting a likely site. To lump U.N. inspectors at all with Iraqi security thugs is astonishing.
And, most important, he did not draw any difference of goal, action or method between the Iraqi dictatorship, one of the most murderous and brutal in recent history, and the countries still trying to deny Saddam weapons of mass death.
The offer Mr. Annan carried from the Security Council did not need a super salesman. All Saddam was asked to do to remove the American threat of bombing was promise again to give U.N. inspectors full and unrestricted access to any site they thought had the forbidden chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, or capacity to make them. The U.N proposals contain no penalties to Saddam for having created a world crisis by breaking his word, no penalty when he breaks it again.
The Administration believes correctly that without the threat of attack Saddam would have scrapped inspection altogether and made as many weapons of mass destruction as he could. Beyond that, the Administration has no strategy about moving toward the elimination of Saddam, just dreams. Given its floundering record on Iraq, the new Administration evasions are not surprising. But Mr. Annan's gift of moral equivalence to Saddam was.
In a decade of reporting the early years of the U.N. I came to understand the critical importance of a Secretary General who believes that diplomacy does not rule out speaking candidly and in support of what are supposed to be U.N. ideals. Mr. Annan is a decent man, respected at the U.N. and by those like myself who think it important.
But in Baghdad it was as if all the declarations on human rights, and all the treaties against torture and genocide, had not been written, or were nothing a "diplomatic solution" should take into account. Where in the principles of the U.N. is that written?