George Bush - Not Saddam Hussein - Is in "Material Breach" of U.N. Resolution 1441|
On November 13, Saddam Hussein agreed to U.N. Resolution 1441, which sent weapons inspectors back to Iraq and required Iraq to fully disclose all of its programs to build weapons of mass destruction by December 8. As that deadline approaches, the Bush administration has said that the slightest oversight by Iraq would put them in "material breach" of 1441, and would permit the U.S. to launch an immediate invasion.
But Iraq is not the only party to U.N. Resolution 1441. In fact, item 10 of the resolution requires:
"all Member States to give full support to UNMOVIC and the IAEA in the discharge of their mandates, including by providing any information related to prohibited programmes or other aspects of their mandates, including on Iraqi attempts since 1998 to acquire prohibited items, and by recommending sites to be inspected, persons to be interviewed, conditions of such interviews, and data to be collected, the results of which shall be reported to the Council by UNMOVIC and the IAEA."
On December 2, the New York Times reported that Bush has specifically violated this requirement:
"In its discussions at the United Nations, the administration has held back whatever intelligence it has collected about Iraq's activities, hoping to leave Mr. Hussein guessing how much the United States knows. It is possible that Mr. Bush will decide to offer up evidence that contradicts the Iraqi declaration or points out major omissions. "The drama here may be how much we are willing to reveal," said a senior official with access to the intelligence."
On December 4, the NY Times reported that a UN top inspector had specifically accused the U.S. of withholding intelligence.
"Today the inspectors joined in the fray. Demetrius Perricos, head of the team conducting the biological, chemical and missile inspections, was asked tonight whether there were differences between President Bush's downbeat assessment and the teams' appraisal of their progress. 'You bet there are differences,' he said.
"The people who sent us here are the international community, the United Nations,' said Mr. Perricos, who is Greek. 'We are not serving the United States, we are not serving the United Kingdom.'
He implied that Mr. Bush bore some responsibility for the challenge facing the inspection teams.
Asked about Mr. Bush's statements, Mr. Perricos said, 'I hope you will understand that we are not getting all the intelligence that President Bush is getting.'
On December 5, Ari Fleischer was grilled by reporters about information the U.S. is withholding from inspectors.
Helen Thomas was especially blunt:
Q: But if you had this evidence other than what Richard Butler is talking about, why don't you lay it out on the table? Why don't you share it with the American public?
Fleischer refused to answer Thomas's question, and repeatedly changed the subject to Iraq's compliance:
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the burden now falls on Saddam Hussein and his opportunity to shed that burden comes this weekend when he will send to the United Nations a declaration of the weapons that he possesses. And I think it will be a very interesting day to see what he says in that document, and we shall see what he says he has. Also we'll see what he says he doesn't have.
But Thomas bluntly refused to be distracted:
Q Why can't you present your own evidence, for god sake? Nobody is stopping you.
Fleischer continued to avoid the question, until a reporter named Wendell raised the charge by Demetrius Perricos:
Q Are you essentially confirming the statement of one member of the inspection team that if the U.S. has intelligence that points to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction program, it has not been shared with the inspectors? And if that's the case, why has it not been shared with the inspectors? And is it your plan to do so after the declaration --
At this point, Fleischer tried to deflect Perricos' accusation by suggeting the U.S. was sharing its information with U.N. inspectors.
MR. FLEISCHER: Wendell, it is never the practice of the White House to discuss how we -- what in any detail level we do with intelligence information. I've made it abundantly clear that we will continue to cooperate with the inspectors to provide them with information and tools they need so they can get the job done that the President has asked them to go into Iraq to do. We have an interest in working closely with them. But I never discuss publicly in any way --
Wendell challenged Fleischer's evasive answer:
Q Well, having said that, you can then say whether or not the inspector is accurate in saying that if you have the intelligence it has not been shared with the team.
Once again, Fleischer refused to give a specific answer to Perricos' charges:
MR. FLEISCHER: We will continue to work closely with the inspectors as the events go along, as we always have.
It would be easy to label Fleischer's deliberately evasive answers as "Clintonian," and to charge the Bush administration with hypocrisy of the worst kind.
But in this context, Bush's actions must be held to a stricter standard - because Bush himself has insisted that the slightest evasion by Iraq would justify a U.S. invasion and conquest of Iraq.
The majority of Americans believe a U.S. war against Iraq can only be justified if Iraq poses a real - not a hypothetical - military threat to the U.S.
But Bush insists that a U.S. war in Iraq can be triggered by a purely formal and legalistic assessment of Iraq's compliance with 1441 - rather than a substantive assessment of the threat posed by Iraq. Throughout his buildup to war, Bush has adamantly refused to address the question of whether Iraq really does pose a military threat to the United States.
The reason for Bush's refusal is obvious: in no way can Iraq's military forces be construed as a genuine threat to the U.S. military. Even at its peak - at the outset of the Gulf War - Iraq's third-rate military was no match for U.S. forces. Of course, much of Iraq's military was destroyed during the Gulf War. And those weapons of mass destruction that remained in its arsenal were almost entirely dismantled by UN inspectors before 1998 - perhaps 90-95%, according to former UN inspector Scott Ritter.
So if Bush cannot portray Iraq as a genuine military threat, the only way he can manufacture a justification for war is through a "legalism," namely charging Iraq with a "material breach" of 1441.
If this ludicrous "legalistic" justification for war deserves the world's support - as Bush adamantly insists it does - then shouldn't the world's media also ask: What are the appropriate consequences for a U.S. breach?
And given the maximum intensity with which alleged Iraqi breaches have been - and will continue to be - investigated by the U.S. and world media, shouldn't this alleged U.S. breach be investigated with a minimal level of intensity?