Pinning Saddam's Arms

The latest replay of "bombs over Baghdad" has ended with a big question: How can Saddam Hussein's weaponry be kept under control now? Ideally, the United Nations arms inspection commission, UNSCOM, would again set up shop in the Iraqi capital.

But, regrettably, the advantage of having people on the ground who know what to look for has, for now, been sacrificed to the necessity of showing Saddam that snubbing the UN mission carries a price. UNSCOM's ability to complete its task was in doubt in any case, because of Iraqi intransigence.

Now policymakers in Washington, London, and at the UN have to move on to what President Clinton, at the start of the air attack, called "a long-term strategy to contain Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction."

That means, first, continued military readiness in the Gulf. For now, the Americans and their British allies will have to shoulder this burden. But this commitment will hopefully come to be appreciated by other European nations and Iraq's Arab neighbors, which may lead in time to more substantive support from those quarters.

Second, the new strategy envisions concerted efforts to pursue a change of government in Baghdad. This objective has received increased attention in Washington of late. But, as we've noted before, it's an extraordinarily difficult undertaking. Saddam's control of his society is thorough and brutal. He has spies spying on spies, and the penalty for challenging the regime is death. An opposition to Saddam exists, but it is fragmented and operates largely outside the country.

Mr. Clinton has promised to work with the Iraqi opposition "effectively and prudently." He has Prime Minister Blair's partnership in this. But just what's involved remains unclear. If Saddam's opponents can be helped to speak with a more unified voice, even that preliminary step would help. The same goes for efforts to broaden Iraqis' access to news and opinion from sources other than the Saddam-run state media.

Military aid, on the other hand, calls for great caution. Any such move carries the freight of failed past US attempts to oust foreign leaders.

Saddam, meanwhile - free of UNSCOM - can be expected to quicken his quest for weapons of mass destruction. Current estimates are that the bombs and cruise missiles have set back his plans by a few months to a year. They almost certainly did not change them.

For this reason, if there's any prospect, no matter how dim, of reinstating UNSCOM, it must be pursued. But only if the assurances and penalties are just as strong as before. A Russian or Chinese attempt to water down the inspection regime should be rebuffed.

Saddam's military expansionism has to be opposed. The Iraqi leader's own actions have dictated that new ways of doing that be found.

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