REACTION TO POWELL'S SPEECH TO THE UN: Matters of Evidence Revisited: Colin Powell and the Case Against Iraq

 Back in December, I wrote: " The passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 notwithstanding, a significant "trust deficit" remains between the United States and other major powers over the question of Iraq.

 Back in December, I wrote: " The passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 notwithstanding, a significant "trust deficit" remains between the United States and other major powers over the question of Iraq. The administration must openly deal with this problem, not ignore its existence. A willingness to engage our partners and assuage their concerns is a pragmatic gesture worth making." (

Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council today (February 5, 2003) masterfully presented new evidence while reminded the other key powers of their own responsibilities.  Powell opened by observing that the Security Council had already unanimously agreed that Iraq had already been found guilty of failing to meet its previous obligations, and that Resolution 1441 was one last chance for Iraq, already found to be in material breach, to comply.  In other words, the Council--not just the United States alone--had agreed that the burden was now on Iraq, not the inspectors, to demonstrate compliance.

By presenting a mix of evidence--taped conversations between Republican Guard officers about "evacuating materials" or the need for circumspection in mentioning forbidden items over communications lines; satellite photographs showing facilities being "cleaned", with components being loaded onto trucks or sites being bulldozed in advance of inspectors' visits; and human intelligence about a system of mobile laboratories and the dispersion of equipment and personnel throughout Iraq--the Secretary demonstrated that Iraqi cooperation has been non-existent. Powell also provided a rejoinder to those who have argued that the lack of a "smoking gun" meant that Iraq did not have a WMD program.  By naming specific sites and by giving estimates (e. g., 18 mobile truck laboratories, "several dozen" SCUD rockets, and so on), Powell also helped to quantify the problem.

Powell's presentation was also meant to drive a stake through the heart of the argument, still often heard in the capitals of the other major powers, that Saddam Hussein can be dealt with, that he can effectively be contained, by arguing that Hussein has not only tried to block the entire inspections process, but has developed new capabilities to continue his development and production programs in spite of inspections.

Powell also attempted to make the case that other powers, not just the United States, are threatened by Iraq.  It was not accidental that Russia, for example, was highlighted on the map as a country within the range of Iraqi rockets.  Of greater interest, however, was the time he spent detailing the connection between Abu Musab Zarqawi and the Iraqi regime, arguing that this key Al-Qaeda lieutenant had been allowed to create a new training camp in an area of Iraq nominally under Kurdish supervision but in fact de facto under the control of agents loyal to Baghdad.  In turn, Zarqawi's network of agents were tied to potential terrorist attacks to be launched in France, Britain and Russia (all permanent members of the Security Council) as well as Germany (which holds the presidency of the Council.)  (1)

Over the next few days, Powell's speech will be digested and analyzed.  One outcome may be that the Security Council will decide that inspections need to be strengthened, taking Powell's comments about searching the homes of every official and scientist in Iraq literally.  At the same time, however, it may convince other governments that definitive evidence will never be produced as long as the current Iraqi regime remains in power, and that Saddam Hussein needs to be removed.  One thing is certain: with this speech, the United States has successfully returned the focus of the world's attention away from "American unilateralism" back where it belongs--on Iraqi deceit and untrustworthiness.

  1. In the National Interest.


Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of In the National Interest.