SOME COOLING OFF is needed before the United Nations Security Council decides what to do next about Iraq.
U.S. and British diplomacy should concentrate on keeping such recalcitrant partners as France and Russia focused on the policy goal of inspections and sanctions. The aim always was, and should remain, to deprive Iraq's rulers of weapons of mass destruction.
It is misguided of the Clinton administration to substitute the ouster of the dictator Saddam Hussein as an objective. The United Nations never adopted that goal. On past form, Washington's efforts in overthrowing distant governments are likely to be long, unsuccessful and deeply resented throughout the world.
What the world community has consistently agreed upon is the need to prevent Saddam Hussein from using poison gas, disease or nuclear explosions against neighboring states or Iraq's own people.
The U.S.-British bombing raids have very likely set back the dictator's ability to wage a modern war against anyone. With more damage done to forces loyal to him than to others, a slight increase in the odds for a mutiny was achieved. Biological or chemical weapons capability, however, was probably not much affected. They are relatively portable and Iraq had time and practice in concealment. Iraq's ability to deliver such horrible weapons by missile probably was reduced.
The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) will not be welcome back to inspect for such weapons in the near future, but that was the point. Saddam Hussein was obstructing its work and never intended to keep his promise to let it proceed. It remains the expert on his weapons capability.
Economic sanctions, never a happy tool, were imposed by the Security Council to produce good faith cooperation with weapons inspection. The end of sanctions should be linked to verification that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.
Absent that, sanctions should remain. Otherwise, Saddam Hussein would be rewarded for stubbornness and evasion.
Pub Date: 12/24/98