Indian officers show off a nuclear-capable missile. With nuclear proliferation running amok in recent years, from India and Pakistan to Iran and North Korea, Scott Ritter argues that highly trained U.N. disarmament experts should be cultivated and deployed.
The organization that was at the center of the maelstrom of the Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction fiasco, responsible for bringing the world to the brink of war on no fewer than a half-dozen occasions during the 1990s, and then unable to prevent a war in March 2003, has departed the global scene. It left not with a dramatic flair befitting its former status, but rather with barely a whimper, reduced to nothing more than a historical footnote in the grand tragedy that has become Iraq. The United Nations Monitoring and Verification Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), successor to its more accomplished parent, the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), was found to be redundant by an act of the United Nations Security Council, which created its disarmament mandate over 16 years ago when it passed Security Council Resolution 1687 in April 1991. The United States and Great Britain had been trying to close down the weapons inspection operation since the invasion of Iraq, citing the demise of Saddam Hussein and the occupation of Iraq by coalition forces as evidence that the U.N.-mandated inspection process was now moot.
In a way, the U.S.-British position has merits, as I for one, having led numerous inspections inside Iraq from 1991 to 1998, would have a hard time imagining the inspection teams operating in a safe and effective manner inside the insurgent-ridden Iraq of today. But the issue of the ongoing relevance of U.N. weapons inspections goes far beyond a simple matter of inspector security. What really galled the U.S. and British officials were the inconvenient truths about Iraq’s disarmed status, something a continued viable inspection operation would officially register in politically damaging fashion. The lies and distortions concerning the threat posed by Iraqi WMD promulgated by the governments of George W. Bush and Tony Blair have been blasted into the background of domestic discourse in both the United States and Britain by the ongoing cacophony of violence exploding from occupied Iraq today, more than four years after the invasion.
While the ongoing violence is widely seen by most rational humans as a tragedy of enormous proportions, for those who lied their way into this illegitimate war by fabricating a nonexistent threat the continued surge of violence in Iraq provides a welcome buffer from any probing into the corrupt foundation of fabrication and deceit upon which the precarious structure of this pre-emptive war of aggression continues to be constructed. With the U.S. Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, growing increasingly discontent with the status quo in Iraq, anything that prompted a renewed examination of why America and its few remaining allies are trapped in the quagmire would be most unwelcome. This is the true reason behind the demise of UNMOVIC—politics, nothing more or less.
The reality was, and is, that nothing could have been done to save UNMOVIC once Bush decided to activate his unilateral dream of regional conquest in the Middle East. Having made international law, and by extension the Security Council of the United Nations, irrelevant to U.S. foreign policy objectives, there was no chance that an organ of the Security Council—the weapons inspection process—could continue to be seen as relevant. Truth be told, UNMOVIC was always a red-headed stepchild in the world of disarmament affairs. It was born of illegitimacy, derived from a political need on the part of the United States to be seen as promoting U.N.-mandated disarmament in Iraq even after orchestrating the demise of UNMOVIC’s predecessor, UNSCOM. When a major candidate for national office in the United States, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, can claim that the reason the United States found itself in Iraq in 2003 was that the government of Saddam Hussein had barred the UNMOVIC inspectors from entering Iraq, and not be held accountable for his ignorance—willful or otherwise—it only underscores the continued denigration of the U.N. inspectors that has occurred throughout their long and labored tenure.
Republicans are not the only ones guilty of misrepresenting the truth regarding Iraq and weapons inspections; President Bill Clinton had the gall to claim that Saddam Hussein had refused to cooperate with weapons inspectors in December 1998, evicting the WMD sleuths from Iraq on the eve of the 72-hour bombing campaign known as Desert Fox. Clinton knew full well that his administration had deliberately created a provocation against the Iraqis, seeking to inspect a Baath Party headquarters, and once it became clear the Iraqis would accede to this outrageous demand, it was Clinton, not Saddam, who ordered the inspectors out of Iraq, seeking to cover his tracks with a bombing campaign that ostensibly targeted “WMD sites,” but which in reality was a thinly disguised assassination attempt against the Iraqi president. A leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, Hillary Clinton, continues to uphold the fiction of her husband’s policy in Iraq, much to the detriment of truth.
Weapons inspectors have always found themselves aware of an all too inconvenient reality, one that postulated the possibility of a compliant Iraq, disarmed in accordance with the mandate set forth by the Security Council, and as such ready to rejoin the family of nations as intended by all Security Council resolutions passed on the subject. It was the unilateral policy objectives of the United States, centered as they were on regime change in Baghdad, which made the realization of Iraq’s disarmed status undesirable. Truth, in the form of a verifiable report regarding the ultimate disposition of Iraqi WMD, was the enemy of a policy that hinged on the maintenance of the perception of Iraqi noncompliance regarding its disarmament obligations. UNSCOM was in a position to issue such a report by 1996, but American intransigence prevented that from happening. UNMOVIC could have pushed for a similar closure in early 2003, but it too found that the truth of Iraq’s WMD was not a message anyone, least of all the United States, was prepared to receive.
In true, the weapons inspectors were more often than not their own worst enemy when it came to making a clear presentation of the facts. The successful infiltration of the weapons inspection process by American and British officials tasked with shaping a picture of Iraqi WMD that dovetailed with the notion of a recalcitrant and dangerous Saddam meant that even while UNSCOM inspectors on the ground were collecting and certifying the data that pointed toward the truth, the inspectors’ leadership in New York was successful in navigating the inspection vehicle in a completely different direction: The establishment of fact would have little bearing on a process in which proving the negative had become the standard for any final judgment. It was all fine and dandy for the inspectors to document what they knew about Iraq’s WMD programs; the problem came when they were called upon to bring to closure that which they did not know, and given the timely insertion of fabricated intelligence into the system by the United States and others, there was a considerable body of unknowns from which to draw upon when making the case that the inspectors’ work had not yet run its course. “Proving the negative” became a disease which infected the entire process, casting doubt where once there existed certainty and clouding over any logical interpretation of the available facts with shadows and whispers of conspiracy and subterfuge.