Congressional critics of the arms-inspection deal brokered by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan are getting shrill. They want Saddam Hussein's overthrow, not his "containment."
Most diplomats, and most American voters, we suspect, are perplexed by this. The world and the region has just been spared a display of American force that would have further battered Saddam's country and might have weakened his ability to lead. At the same time, the bombs and missiles almost certainly would have undermined US influence in the region and the world.
Washington's prime interest is the continued detection and elimination of Saddam's arsenal of mass destruction. An opportunity to pursue that goal through the proven means of the UN Special Commission, UNSCOM, is now at hand. The final language of the Annan agreement with Saddam should leave no doubt that UNSCOM and its chairman, Richard Butler, remain fully in charge of verifying Iraqi compliance with arms-inspection procedures.
Iraq's chief UN envoy has suggested that the diplomatic observers allowed under the new agreement will sign off on inspections of so-called "presidential" sites in Iraq, not Mr. Butler. That won't do. Butler's technical experts alone are qualified to assess the "cleanness" of any site.
The critics are right to underscore Saddam's sad record on past accords. He's not to be trusted. His record of repression at home and aggression against neighbors shows exactly why depriving him of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons is such a priority. Others in the region may have these arms too, but none poses the risk that Saddam does.
And it's true that the current pact may need repeated reinforcement in the months, and perhaps years, ahead - yes, even more demonstrations of readiness to use military force.
For now, however, the threat of force has coupled with Annan's diplomacy to avert actual force and reassert the inspection regime. This wasn't the US abdicating to the UN, but the US working effectively through the world body.
The diplomatic outcome doesn't win the war, as we stated last week, but it can be a victory. Instead of longing for schemes to oust the Iraqi dictator - no easy task from any perspective - the doubters should get behind this deal and make sure it's as tough as possible. Then, put it to the test.