Colin Powell fails to make satisfactory case for war

Wednesday, February 12, 2003 at 1:00am

Even the most ardent anti-war activist must admit that Secretary of State Colin Powell made a powerful presentation before the U.N. Security Council.

On foreign policy, Powell is the most credible member of the Bush administration. He's the only one, including the president, who doesn't get up each morning and say: I can't wait to start bombing Saddam Hussein. So, when Powell speaks, we all listen.

We listen when Powell says Saddam possesses biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction and is hiding them from U.N. inspectors. We listen when he says Iraq has attempted to buy materials and equipment with which to manufacture nuclear weapons. And we listen when he says Iraq has a long history of supporting terrorist organizations, including today's al Qaeda.

If there were ever any doubt, Powell proved once and for all that Saddam is an evil tyrant with evil intentions. But no matter how compelling his presentation, Powell still failed to address the three most important questions: How is Iraq an imminent threat to the United States? Why is war the only option? And why is war necessary now, in spring 2003?

Powell, in other words, made the case against Saddam. But he failed to make the case for war. There is no way to paint Iraq as a threat to the United States. It's located halfway around the globe. It has no navy to speak of, no long-range bombers, and no long-range missiles. Plus, we now control 40 percent of Iraqi territory in the northern and southern no-fly zones. For all practical purposes, Saddam has been defanged for the last 11 years.

Nor is he a threat to his neighbors. He made a mistake when he invaded Kuwait, and he knows it. This is why he has made no hostile move in the last 11 years. Saddam is evil, but he's not stupid. He knows that if he makes just one false move, Iraq would be a parking lot. Fast. It's called deterrence. It worked to contain the old Soviet Union for 50 years. It's worked to contain Iraq ever since Desert Storm.

Deterrence is just one of several options President Bush refuses to consider. But the best alternative was suggested, inadvertently, by Powell himself. He gave the United Nations a road map. Why not just take all the evidence he laid before the Security Council, give it to the U.N. inspectors, and turn them loose? Triple the number of inspectors, if necessary, and continue to feed them the latest American intelligence. That's the best way to keep Saddam from mischief.

Of course, that means giving inspectors more time. And why not? Unlike North Korea, Iraq has no nuclear weapons. Unlike North Korea, Iraq has welcomed U.N. inspectors back in. Whatever weapons Saddam possesses, he's had them for the last 11 years. What's the hurry?

There is absolutely no compelling reason to invade Iraq now

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