With all due respect to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the agreement he negotiated with Iraq reminds me of the German officer who, in 1933, remarked to a senior member of the British Embassy in Berlin that the British were gentlemen but the French were not.
He explained: "One day in 1920, some of the Military Control Commission under a French and a British officer came to the barracks I commanded. They said they had reason to believe I had a store of rifles concealed behind a brick wall, contrary to the Versailles treaty. I denied this and told them, 'I give you my word of honor as a German officer that I have no rifles concealed in the barracks.'
"Well, your British officer was a gentleman. He accepted my word of honor and went away. But the French officer was not a gentleman. He would not accept my word of honor. He pulled down the brick wall. And he took my rifles."
Since February 1991, Iraq has repeatedly violated its agreements to allow free and unfettered access to all sites in Iraq by the inspection teams of the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM). It has engaged in a systematic, massive, and blatant program of deception, deceit, denial, diversion, and evasion.
This program has three aims: preventing or delaying the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles and the infrastructure for building them; sabotaging or negating UNSCOM's inspection and verification regime; and eroding the international will to enforce Iraq's compliance with UN resolutions and maintain sanctions absent that compliance.
The program's centerpiece has been the construction of more than 60 (not just eight) "presidential sites" around the country. In these sites, as well as in dozens of other "sensitive" military and security installations barred to UNSCOM inspectors, Iraq has created a "parallel universe," where it could continue or resume its forbidden weapons programs.
While Iraq's program has been systematic and long-term, US policy toward Iraq has not. By dealing with Iraq only when Saddam caused a crisis, the Clinton administration allowed the Persian Gulf War coalition to fall apart, and left doubts about the seriousness of Saddam's transgressions and the threat he poses. The administration also has maneuvered itself so that each crisis became an issue of prestige and credibility for the US, and bombing or not bombing Iraq became a potential lose-lose proposition.
The UN agreement contains the "justification" for Saddam's next crisis. It says (again) that Iraq will allow UNSCOM free and unfettered access to all sites, but it also says UNSCOM will respect Iraq's "legitimate concerns relating to dignity, security, and sovereignty." These "concerns" are precisely the grounds on which Iraq has repeatedly refused access to sites to UNSCOM teams in the past.
The US must make it very clear that there are no grounds for future Iraqi delays and evasions. It must constantly remind the world that Saddam won't be allowed to drag out the process of destroying his forbidden weapons, delaying the lifting of the UN sanctions.
The centerpiece of US policy should be behavior modification based on the principle "No access means no access." Any future Iraqi attempts to deny access to any site will result in denial of access to Iraq. And that site (or a presidential palace) will be destroyed without delay.
This policy would prevent another incident from turning into a painfully drawn-out international crisis. It would force other countries to maintain pressure on Iraq. And it would keep the US from getting into situations in which its prestige and credibility are on the line. Finally, the US would not face the dilemma of launching a full-scale bombing attack of questionable effectiveness, because a full-scale attack would not be necessary.
To make this agreement work, the US cannot be a gentleman.
* Mark Kagan, a Washington-based consultant, has been a military analyst at Jane's Information Group and an intelligence analyst at the US Department of Defense.