WASHINGTON — To the world, President Bush talks disarmament. To Americans, he talks regime change, which means eliminating Saddam Hussein by force.
Between the option of inspection that would be ineffectual and the option of invasion leading to occupation of indefinite duration, is there an option "C" that might rid us of the hidden weapons but spare us the war?
A study group led by Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and retired Air Force Gen. Charles Boyd, president of Business Executives for National Security, has come up with an original idea.
In "A New Approach: Coercive Inspections" they suggest this: The United Nations Security Council would create an American-led multinational inspections implementation force. This force would back up a team of inspectors and ensure that they see what they want to see and when they want to see it. The force would have photo-spy planes, access to satellite imaging, and other means of intelligence. All inspections would be without notice to the Iraqi government.
General Boyd says the objective of the UN and the United States should be to disable Saddam Hussein's arsenal of unconventional weapons rather than to remove him.
Why would the Iraqi dictator accept an American-commanded military force in his country? He would have to be convinced that this would be his only way to survive.
Why would the UN go for it? Because this would counter the criticism that inspection under current conditions would be ineffectual, and it would help to resolve the dispute between the UN and the Bush administration over the use of force. And if Saddam Hussein agreed to the plan, and later started interfering with inspection, as he has done in the past, then we would be back to the invasion option, now commanding more widespread support.
Jessica Mathews and General Boyd have briefed National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on the coercive inspection plan, but the Bush administration has not commented on it publicly. This is the kind of plan that remains in people's in-boxes to be dug out when the time is right.
That time could come if the Bush administration and the UN remain deadlocked on whether to authorize the use of force against Iraq.
The Mathews-Boyd concept is more than easily evaded inspection and less than a war that much of the world may not be ready for.
The time for coercive inspection could come one of these days.
Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.