September 18, 2002

Inspections in Iraq

Much to the disgust of the Bush administration, Iraq has just agreed to admit weapons inspectors unconditionally, though there are not-so-subtle hints that the freedom of inspectors will be not-so-unconditional. The move on Iraq’s part is no doubt a clever one, and most observers would be surprised if the next batch of inspections isn’t frustrated by the delay, obstructionism, and deceit that characterized the most recent inspection efforts. It will nonetheless be some minor victory at least to re-insert inspectors into the country.

I have a proposal to increase the effectiveness of inspections this time. First, give the process a chance—a month, perhaps. No doubt, some real inspection will be accomplished, but the inspection team will just as surely be frustrated by its efforts to inspect particular sites on a schedule that does not allow for them to be sanitized before the team arrives. Then announce that the inspection procedure will be modified: The Iraqi government will be notified of the sites to be inspected during the next 24 hours. If the inspections cannot be carried out due to governmental obstructionism, we simply assume the worst and take out the target sites with cruise missiles or other weapons. Of course, the inspectors will be held captive, so we must have another list of targets to be eliminated, one per day, until such time as Iraq abides by U.N. resolutions. We should not attack more than one target at a time, but neither should we be deterred by concern for collateral damage or civilian deaths. Discretion suggests that early targets should be ones unlikely to incur civilian casualties.

Though not without its dangers—especially for inspectors, unfortunately—the plan is more likely to advance effective inspection without inviting the onset of World War III than plans apparently now favored by the President and his advisors. It will be hard to argue that the strikes are inappropriate, and they are individually insufficient to provoke enough outrage from defenders of Iraq to cause us or the world any real grief. Who knows, we might actually disarm Iraq and make a “regime change” unnecessary. Of course, George W. Bush would hate that!

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