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UN: Powell Makes Strong Case Against Iraq, But It May Not Be Enough

  • Andrew Tully

How good is the U.S. case against Iraq? Independent analysts say that the United States' top diplomat, Colin Powell, made a strong presentation yesterday to the United Nations of evidence that Saddam Hussein continues to violate Security Council resolutions. In the end, however, it may not have been as persuasive as he had hoped.

Washington, 6 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is receiving mixed reviews for his presentation yesterday of the U.S. case against the Iraqi government before the United Nations Security Council.

During his 75-minute address, Powell supplemented his arguments with satellite photographs, intercepts of telephone conversations, and statements by Iraqi informants. He hoped to convince the Security Council that it must bring united pressure against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to disarm or face military action.

Michael O'Hanlon called Powell's performance "impressive" and "compelling." O'Hanlon is a military-affairs analyst with the Brookings Institution, a private policy center in Washington.

O'Hanlon said that Powell prepared his audience in advance by promising no "smoking guns," or irrefutable evidence of Iraq's noncompliance with UN resolutions, then producing what he called unexpectedly good evidence. O'Hanlon said he was particularly impressed by the case regarding Hussein's suspected possession of chemical and biological weapons. "I think [Powell] did understate expectations, and then he exceeded them with the declassification of some of these sensitive intercepts [of Iraqi communications]. I thought in particular [that] he really did come up with some goods that I, personally, did not expect," O'Hanlon said.

According to O'Hanlon, Powell's presentation leaves countries such as France and Germany with only weak arguments to support their position that more time should be given for diplomacy to defuse the crisis. "Those who still oppose war will have to say either that Saddam is contained by virtue of not having nuclear weapons or by saying that, 'Inspections can still work if we give them enough time, and why not play this out as long as we can, since even this difficult continued effort in the [Persian] Gulf is preferable to war,'" O'Hanlon said.

A more mixed review of Powell's performance comes from John Wolfstahl, the deputy director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, another Washington policy institution.

Wolfstahl told RFE/RL that he believes Powell did a superb job demonstrating how Hussein has sought to interfere with the work of UN weapons inspectors. But Wolfstahl said that Powell fared more poorly in trying to convince the Security Council that Hussein is a major threat to world peace.

Wolfstahl graded Powell's performance as a teacher might grade a pupil taking a test: "It was sort of a two-part test. [Powell] got an A on the first half, and I'd give him an F on the second. And so as an [overall] grade, I'd give him a C."

Wolfstahl said Powell's use of evidence gathered through U.S. intelligence agencies did a good job of making what he called a "strategic" case that Hussein possesses prohibited weapons.

But Wolfstahl emphasized that the secretary of state did not succeed in making what he called the more important "political" case that would generate support for the U.S. position, particularly in Europe. He said that France and Germany, especially, need evidence that is conclusive before joining U.S. President George W. Bush in a military campaign against Hussein.

Still, Wolfstahl said, Powell did not lose any international support with his presentation, and he may have gained valuable backing among Americans, who have recently become more skeptical about the need for a war with Iraq. "I don't think we've gained any additional votes in the Security Council as a result of this presentation. I [also] don't think we've lost any [foreign support], and I think if anything, this will probably improve support at home. I think Powell's presentation will be well received domestically," Wolfstahl said.

Leon Fuerth agrees. Fuerth served as national-security adviser to Al Gore when Gore was vice president during Bill Clinton's presidency from 1993 to 2001.

Fuerth said that Powell did what he needed to do: lend credibility to U.S. assertions that Iraq wants to thwart Security Council resolutions. But he said that this alone is not enough to persuade France, which wields a veto on the Security Council, to join the United States in opposing Hussein militarily. Fuerth told RFE/RL that he wonders if any argument would be good enough for France. "I'd say that the government of France is convinced that it does not want to see a war, and therefore it will fall back on whatever argument it finds to sustain its case," Fuerth said.

Fuerth was asked about the theory that French and German resistance to war might actually make war against Iraq more likely. Under this theory, Hussein could disarm or even go into exile if he were threatened by a UN Security Council united against him. But given the division on the Security Council, according to the theory, Iraq will continue to defy UN resolutions and thereby make war inevitable.

Fuerth said he agrees that France and Germany may be making war more certain, even as they try to avoid it. "I think it almost certainly does make war more likely. Of course, if these positions are deeply felt by the French and German governments, then they will not yield to that logic because it is a line of argument that says, 'Toss aside your reservations, throw in with us in the hope that this will make war unnecessary,'" Fuerth said.

Fuerth said he also believes that Hussein takes "some comfort" from the current divisions on the Security Council and that this tends to influence his calculations. According to Fuerth, Hussein has made grave miscalculations about the resolve of the United States in the past and appears to be doing so again.