Recent vituperative attacks on U.S. policy by famous and respected men like Nelson Mandela and John Le Carré, although excessive, are echoed in a Web site poll conducted by the European edition of TIME magazine. The question was “Which country poses the greatest danger to world peace in 2003?” With several hundred thousand votes cast, the responses were: North Korea, 7 percent; Iraq, 8 percent; the United States, 84 percent. This is a gross distortion of our nation’s character, and America is not inclined to let foreign voices answer the preeminent question that President Bush is presenting to the world, but it is sobering to realize how much doubt and consternation has been raised about our motives for war in the absence of convincing proof of a genuine threat from Iraq.
The world will be awaiting Wednesday’s presentation of specific evidence by Secretary of State Colin Powell concerning Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. As an acknowledged voice of moderation, his message will carry enormous weight in shaping public opinion. But even if his effort is successful and lies and trickery by Saddam Hussein are exposed, this will not indicate any real or proximate threat by Iraq to the United States or to our allies.
With overwhelming military strength now deployed against him and with intense monitoring from space surveillance and the U.N. inspection team on the ground, any belligerent move by Saddam against a neighbor would be suicidal. An effort to produce or deploy chemical or biological weapons or to make the slightest move toward a nuclear explosive would be inconceivable. If Iraq does possess such concealed weapons, as is quite likely, Saddam would use them only in the most extreme circumstances, in the face of an invasion of Iraq, when all hope of avoiding the destruction of his regime is lost.
In Washington, there is no longer any mention of Osama bin Laden, and the concentration of public statements on his international terrorist network is mostly limited to still-unproven allegations about its connection with Iraq. The worldwide commitment and top priority of fighting terrorism that was generated after September 11th has been attenuated as Iraq has become the preeminent obsession of political leaders and the general public.
In addition to the need to re-invigorate the global team effort against international terrorism, there are other major problems being held in abeyance as our nation’s foreign policy is concentrated on proving its case for a planned attack on Iraq. We have just postponed again the promulgation of the long-awaited “road map” that the U.S. and other international leaders have drafted for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is a festering cancer and the root cause of much of the anti-American sentiment that has evolved throughout the world. At the same time, satellite observations of North Korea have indicated that nuclear fuel rods, frozen under international surveillance since 1994, are now being moved from the Yongbyon site to an undisclosed destination, possibly for reprocessing into explosives. It is imperative that this threat to Asian stability be met with aggressive diplomacy.
Since it is obvious that Saddam Hussein has the capability and desire to build an arsenal of prohibited weapons and probably has some of them hidden within his country, what can be done to prevent the development of a real Iraqi threat? The most obvious answer is a sustained and enlarged inspection team, deployed as a permanent entity until the United States and other members of the U.N. Security Council determine that its presence is no longer needed. For almost eight years following the Gulf War until it was withdrawn four years ago, UNSCOM proved to be very effective in locating and destroying Iraq’s formidable arsenal, including more than 900 missiles and biological and chemical weapons left over from their previous war with Iran.
Even if Iraq should come into full compliance now, such follow-up monitoring will be necessary. The cost of an on-site inspection team would be minuscule compared to war, Saddam would have no choice except to comply, the results would be certain, military and civilian casualties would be avoided, there would be almost unanimous worldwide support, and the United States could regain its leadership in combating the real threat of international terrorism.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is chair of The Carter Center in Atlanta, Ga., a not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization that advances peace and health worldwide.