Mr. Powell’s most convincing evidence was of efforts by Iraq to shield chemical or biological weapons programs from United Nations inspectors. The intercepted conversations of Republican Guard officers that he played, in which they urgently seek to hide equipment or to destroy communications in advance of inspections, offered stark evidence that Mr. Hussein has not only failed to cooperate with the inspectors, as Resolution 1441 requires him to, but has actively sought to thwart them. Mr. Powell also offered new evidence that Al Qaeda terrorists have found safe harbor in Iraq, but the links between Baghdad and the terror network seemed more tenuous than his other charges.
Mr. Powell’s presentation was all the more convincing because he dispensed with apocalyptic invocations of a struggle of good and evil and focused on shaping a sober, factual case against Mr. Hussein’s regime. It may not have produced a “smoking gun,” but it left little question that Mr. Hussein had tried hard to conceal one.
In response to Mr. Powell’s presentation, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, China and Russia called for extending and strengthening the inspection program in Iraq. The French minister, Dominique de Villepin, proposed expanding the number of inspectors and increasing the pressure on Iraq to comply. With the senior inspectors due to make their next report to the Security Council next week, Iraq still has a chance to change course.
President Bush’s decision to dispatch Mr. Powell to present the administration’s case before the Security Council showed a wise concern for international opinion. Since Mr. Bush’s own address to the U.N. last September, he has kept faith with his commitment to work through the Security Council. As the crisis builds, he should make every possible effort to let the council take the lead.
The Security Council, the American people and the rest of the world have an obligation to study Mr. Powell’s presentation very closely and very seriously. Because the consequences of war are so terrible, and the cost of rebuilding Iraq so great, the United States cannot afford to confront Iraq without broad international support.