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Jewish World Review Feb. 6, 2003 / 4 Adar I, 5763

Seth Gitell

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Consumer Reports

Powell's powerful presentation | Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered a presentation to the United Nations Security Council that was extremely well-reasoned, pain-stakingly documented, and masterfully delivered. If there is a case to make to both the people of the United States and the world of the imperative to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, Powell made it today. Powell may have been the only person in the country -- certainly the only one in the Bush Administration -- capable of making the argument he did today.

I have been a supporter of removing Hussein from power for a long time; that said, I have been a critic of President George Bush's inability to articulate the reasons for this to the American public. But where Bush spoke in religious-laden generalities at his State of the Union last week, Powell offered hard, cold facts. Before the speech, everybody liked to talk about how Powell needs an "Adlai Stevenson Moment," referring to the speech delivered by former Illinois senator Stevenson when, serving as US ambassador to the United Nations, he presented visual evidence of Russian missiles in Cuba ("Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed and is placing medium and intermediate range missiles and sites in Cuba?"). Powell provided that.

Within minutes into his hour and a half address, Powell played two audio recordings of Iraqi military officials in the process of hiding materials being sought by United Nations weapons inspectors. "We have this modified vehicle. What do we say if one of the [U.N. weapons inspectors] sees it?" asks one. Then, the other one says, "We evacuated everything." In another taped conversation, an officer refers to "forbidden ammunition." Later in the presentation, Powell played an intercepted communication in which one officer ordered another to "remove the expression nerve agents whenever it comes up."

There was also satellite material. Powel showed a surveillance photo of a chemical weapons bunker, identified by a signature guardhouse and abutting decontamination facility. The photo was taken prior to a visit by weapons inspectors. Then Powell showed a series of photos depicting trucks arriving at the bunker and, finally, a relatively benign-looking building.

Nobody can prove with complete certainly that the building was a weapons facility as Powell suggested. Perhaps American intelligence officials are misinterpreting what they think a signs of chemical weapons activity. And it's within the realm of possibility that the "modified vehicle" the Iraqi officers are talking about is really a souped-up Cadillac Escalade SUV like Kobe Bryant drives. But taken in the context of ongoing weapons inspection, somehow I doubt it.

Some commentators pooh-pooed Powell's use of such evidence, arguing that "everyone knows" that Iraq engages in a deception regime. Northeaster University Professor James Walsh made that argument as a "terrorism expert" for WHDH TV. But such sophisticated discounting of information suggests an ignorance of the Iraq debate over the last several months. The key battle in recent weeks is whether UN weapons inspection should be given more time. Those arguing in favor of more time have been making much of the fact that the weapons inspectors haven't been making many discoveries of forbidden material in Iraq. Accepting that Iraq is engaged in a highly creative and highly deceptive campaign of hiding the exact kinds of weapons the inspectors are looking for is tantamount to finally accepting the limit to the weapons inspection process -- at least as far as the UN goes.

Powell's presentation shifts the debate. There can no longer be any doubt that Hussein is playing a cat-and-mouse game with the UN. The UN can decide to do one of two things: 1) do nothing and be relegated to a fancy debating club along the lines of its precursor, the League of Nations; or 2) enforce its resolutions and disarm Iraq. If it chooses the first course, it, as Powell suggested, "puts itself in danger of irrelevance."

JWR contributor Seth Gitell is the political writer of the Boston Phoenix Comment by clicking here.

02/05/03: Making the case that Saddam Hussein is linked with Al Qaeda
01/31/03: Gen. Schwarzkopf is against going to war with Iraq. Since he messed things up so bad the first time around, why is anyone listening to him now?
01/24/03: Cynthia McKinney for president
01/16/03: The Sharpton test
01/13/03: Lieberman is in a pickle --- and it's becoming increasingly more sour
12/26/02: Where does the war on terror go from here?
12/23/02: Why democracy never came to Iraq after the last Gulf War
12/20/02: Vermont governor Howard Dean hopes to bridge the gulf between New England and the Western states, and bypass the socially conservative South. Should John Kerry be worried?
12/18/02: No Gore 2004: Follow the Money
12/06/02: Gore, like Dicken's Jacob Marley, Dead as a Door-nail
10/24/02: War with Iraq may not happen, after all
10/22/02: Winning European hearts and minds
10/18/02: Lieberman makes 'em laugh --- on purpose
10/04/02: Hawking an interpretation (in which Scott Ritter tells our columnist to 'go to H-LL!')
09/13/02: Bush Challenge to U.N. Members: Are You Better than League of Nations?
09/06/02: Iraq attack: Ritter's reversal
08/30/02: Stick with comedy, Jon Stewart
08/16/02: Green around the gills: Nader Effect could cost the Dems the election in three states
08/01/02: Gore's low profile is no accident
07/31/02: President Hillary? Despite her denials, candidacy is not that unlikely
07/26/02: On the road with John Kerry
07/17/02: Meet the 'Clinton' of the 2004 New Hampshire primary
07/12/02: Ancient rivalry: Williams vs. DiMaggio
07/10/02: Warrior spirit
05/08/02: Hosting a TV show will keep Clinton off the streets
04/26/02: Truth in advertising in SaudiLand --- and ours
02/28/02: Time for hipsters to do a reality-check

© 2002, Seth Gitell