BY MARK STEYN SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
After Colin Powell's presentation, there was a lunch hosted by the German foreign minister. After lunch, there will now be war.
Not just because the only reason to burn those intelligence sources is if you're planning on strolling into those facilities openly within a few weeks. Iraq is due to take over the presidency of the UN
Conference on Disarmament in May, and, as a droll reader, Doug Amadeo of New York, pointed out to me, by May Iraq will be the world expert on disarmament, if only from the receiving end.
But Wednesday's presentation was also for the benefit of posterity: When Saddam's skeletons come tumbling out of the post-liberation closet, it will not be possible to claim, ''Quelle surprise! If only we'd known!'' The French have intelligence services, too. When the Americans and British say ''This is what we know,'' the subtext is: The French and the Russians also know this stuff. They just don't think it matters.
It won't have changed minds, and it wasn't intended to. If you're the sort of person who thinks Colin Powell has a troupe of Arabic-speaking radio actors on staff to fake audio transcripts, or who genuinely believes there's a perfectly innocent explanation for all that chitchat about ''nerve agents,'' or who keeps chanting robotically, ''Yeah, but the U.S. backed Saddam in the '80s" (to which the only response is: ''So what? I liked Bananarama in the '80s''), then nothing will change your mind. There's been an interesting ratchet effect in recent weeks: The left has increasingly given up on even pro-forma denunciations of Saddam--''Of course, I want to see him gone, but . . .'' The old butcher's becoming a turn-on to them, another Ho, another Fidel.
But if you take the suppler position of Jacques Chirac--which is, broadly, that we cynical Gallic charmers run rings around the UN
, so why shouldn't Saddam?--then the strength of Powell's evidence is also irrelevant. So at the end of his presentation, those who were in favor of war were still in favor, and those opposed still opposed.
The surprise was Powell's confident assertion of Saddam's links to terrorism and the presence in Baghdad for eight months of key al-Qaida personnel with links to the recently arrested ricin terrorists in Britain. The secretary of state was at pains to emphasize that these agents' recent schemes have been principally against European targets. In other words, nations that put their investment in interminable UN
proceduralism do so at their own peril. If you accept what he says, then it moves the debate beyond Resolution 1441: If al-Qaida's in Baghdad, then that's not a UN
discussion topic but a threat to U.S. security.
You can choose not to believe that, if you wish. The evidence is circumstantial, and as an unending torrent of alleged experts assure us nightly, the ''fundamentalist'' Islamists like al-Qaida revile ''secular'' Baathists like Saddam. That's a lot of bunk. For one thing, Iraq has recently produced a collector's item edition of the Koran written entirely in Saddam's donated blood. That makes him rather less ''secular'' a leader than, say, Hillary Clinton or Gerhard Schroeder. Anyone who regards Saddam's behavior these last two decades as a reliable indicator of the scale of his ambition will understand that he would have no ideological objection to making common cause with al-Qaida and several compelling reasons to keep them a going concern, if only as a distraction. You can argue against that, if you want to. But your argument depends on giving both Saddam and al-Qaida the benefit of far more doubts than their prior behavior warrants. Your line is basically: We can't really be sure he'd sell suitcase nukes to terrorists until one goes off in Detroit. Then you'll say, oh, OK
, maybe there's a link after all--unless, of course, you're among the dead.
The United States, Britain, Australia, Italy, Spain and their other allies are past that stage of the debate. Resolution 1441, painstakingly negotiated syllable by syllable by Powell and his duplicitous opposite number in the Quai d'Orsay, was never about Saddam. It was about the UN
. The choice is: Put Saddam out of business, or put yourselves out of business. To judge from their reactions, the Security Council members still don't quite get it. Dominique de Villepin responded to Powell with some artful platitudes about the need to strengthen the inspections regime: We need to ''double, triple the number of inspectors.'' Hey, why stop there? Let's quintuple them, and make Saddam's wily removal guys work a little harder. It'll be like one of those speeded-up Benny Hill finales with Saddy, his generals, Hans Blix, the S&M guy, some fetching Iraqi jailbait and Scott Ritter all zigzagging from presidential palace to presidential palace for another 12 years. Even allowing for the fact that these remarks had been prepared ahead of time, their complacency was insulting. Powell's point is a simple one: Saddam cannot be ''inspected'' into compliance.
This statement of the obvious was supported by no other permanent member of the Council apart from Britain. Jack Straw, the Foreign and Commonwealth secretary, all but wrote the UN
's obituary, as just another League of Nations, a bunch of international ditherers, all talk, no walk. It's clear from the mood around the Security Council table that there isn't much will for anything other than yet another last-chance resolution, then another and another, until Saddam retires to the Riviera and hands things over to Junior, who makes Pop look like Walter Mondale.
That won't do now. The trouble with the UN
is simple: At its inception, its structures reflected the realities of the Second World War victory parade; then, from the '50s to the '80s, it reflected the realities of the Cold War stalemate; now it reflects not the new reality--a unipolar world dominated by a hyperpower--but the denial of that fact. For most of the participants in this week's meeting, the UN
is not a reflection of geopolitical power but a substitute for it, a means by which the Lilliputians can tie down the American Gulliver. The fantastical, unreal character it adopted after the collapse of Communism sealed its fate. Wednesday was merely a confirmation.
Two or three dozen countries will join the war to liberate Iraq. If the Americans and British are wise, they'll play up the smaller fry, let their generals handle some of the press conferences, talk up their war heroics. All the late 20th century arrangements--the European Union, NATO and most definitely the UN
--are about to be remade.