Secretary of State Colin Powell's speech to the UN Security Council Wednesday was carefully constructed to try to convince his listeners that weapons inspections in Iraq won't disarm Saddam Hussein, no matter how long they last, and no matter how hard the inspectors try.
This line of argument is important because France, Germany, and other Security Council critics have long claimed that the very presence of UN arms snoops in the country will contain Iraq's ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction, at least for the time being.
But convincing the world that the inspectors are participants in a shell game run by a master of deception is only part of the US problem as it tries to rally support for war. Many nations have long been convinced that Mr. Hussein is a dangerous man. The question is, is he more dangerous now than he was 10 years ago - and if so, do the risks of war outweigh the risks of waiting?
"The second half of the argument is what is missing [in Mr. Powell's presentation]," says Jim Walsh, an expert in international security at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "What do we do about it?"
That said, Powell's speech was a clear challenge to the Security Council as much as to Iraq. In passing Resolution 1441 unanimously last year, the Council put Iraq on notice that if it remained in material breach of disarmament resolutions there would be "serious consequences," Powell said. For the UN to retreat from that threat now would be to undermine its authority.
Parents know that to threaten punishment for a specific action, and then not carry it out, risks worse behavior next time. Though Powell himself did not use this analogy, he did say that this is the kind of situation Security Council members are now facing.
"This body places itself in danger of irrelevance if it does not respond effectively and immediately," said Powell.
Powell's basic theme echoed that of recent assertions by other US officials in framing the proper task of inspectors as one of cooperation, not aggression. In a country as large and diverse as Iraq, it is foolish to think that a handful of men and women, no matter how well trained, will be able to thwart determined weapons programs. "Inspectors are not detectives," said Powell.
His evidence supported this assertion. Dramatic phone intercepts from the day before inspectors arrived last November showed Iraqi officials saying they had "evacuated everything." Another depicted a Republican Guard commander telling an underling to delete the words "nerve agent" from the "wireless instructions."
Perhaps the most compelling pieces of data were the spy photos on an ammunitions depot, which zoomed in on alleged chemical weapons bunkers, and then zoomed in again to show a vehicle described as a decontamination truck, along with special guards said to indicate the presence of actual chemical munitions.
"He presented clear evidence that Iraq is continuing to develop chemical and biological weapons and to conceal that effort in violation of Security Council resolutions," says Michael Glennon, a professor of international law at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Mass.
The last section of the speech dealt with ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, which the Bush administration has long alleged - allegations the rest of the world has viewed with skepticism. While still sketchy, the evidence cited included some indications of ties between Hussein and Osama bin Laden predating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I thought this was in a sense the most significant part of the presentation," says Mr. Glennon, since it might provide a legal basis for action by the US outside Security Council auspices under the doctrine of self-defense.
For a number of US-based experts, the bottom line of Powell's presentation was that he removed from the table the question of whether inspections work or not. They don't, according to Powell's evidence, and there is no reasonable expectation that they ever will. "The remaining question is 'what do we do about that?' " says Glennon.
If initial reaction inside the chamber is any judge, the question of continued inspections is still open in the minds of some Security Council members, however,
France, in its response, proposed an enhanced inspections regime, with far more inspectors being sent to Iraq. "Faced with the choice between war and inspections, we must choose decisive reinforcement of the tools of inspection," said French foreign minister Dominique De Villepin.
In the region itself, reaction seemed to be that whatever will happen is foreordained, and that Powell's speech is not as important as it seems to be in Washington and New York.
Iran, which fought a bitter war with Iraq in the 1980s, might be expected to look on evidence of Hussein's duplicity with grim satisfaction. But that's not entirely the case.
Hussein Saifzadeh, professor of political science at Tehran University, says Powell's presentation did not alter his overall perception of America's push toward war. "What I think is that US is just determined to attack Iraq," he says. The significance of Powell's talk, he adds, is that it shows how British Prime Minister Tony Blair has "convinced Bush to go more multilaterally rather than unilaterally."
Mr. Saifzadeh was not bowled over by Powell's tapes and images. Several of the latter, he notes, were drawn diagrams, not photographs. The snippets of conversation need further investigation before they can be fully understood, he argues.
Like a growing number of people in the Middle East, Saifzadeh says the odds of averting war are slim. But there is always the hope that Hussein's pragmatism may prevail: "If Saddam decides to make a deal at the last moment that would be good."
In the US, the reception, even among some Democrats, was far more positive. Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted: "Secretary Powell made a powerful and I think irrefutable case before the Security Council today... The question now is will the Security Council live up to its responsibilities and enforce its own resolution....That is the only hope for a possibility of avoiding war."
• Staff writers Howard LaFranchi at the UN, Faye Bowers and Gail Russell Chaddock in Washington, and Cameron W. Barr in Tehran contributed to this story.
• Iraqi Republican Guard officers on Nov. 26, 2002 discuss a modified vehicle one day before UN inspections. Vehicle was made by Al Kindi, an Iraqi company, which Powell said was a weapons manufacturer.
• Republican Guard officer directs subordinate not to include the phrase "nerve agents" on wireless communications that could be monitored.
• Indicate Iraqi military was directed to hide correspondence with organization overseeing development of weapons of mass destruction.
• Prohibited weapons were removed from Hussein's palaces and scattered rocket launchers and warheads armed with biological agents to palm tree groves in western Iraq.
• Baath party members and scientists hid prohibited items and classified documents in their homes and cars.
• Scientists ordered to stay home from work to avoid inspections or placed under house arrest as a group in Hussein's guest house.
• Suggest Iraq "bulldozed and graded to conceal chemical weapons evidence" at the Al Musayyib chemical complex in 2002, and had a series of cargo vehicles and a decontamination vehicle moving around at the site.
• Show cargo trucks and cranes removing ballistic missiles on Nov. 25, 2002 shortly before inspections
• Iraq harbors a terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi spent two months in Baghdad in May and June 2002 for medical treatment and that some members of his groups were now based in the Iraqi capital.
• Iraqi agents assisted Al Qaeda in Afghanistan with forgery and other skills during the mid 1990s.
• High ranking Al Qaeda leader responsible for running training camps indicated he was trained in Iraq in the use of chemical and biological weapons starting in Dec. 2000
- Compiled by Seth Stern, Staff