No one would deny that Mr Saddam Hussein is capable of playing tricks of the most horrendous kind. The American secretary of state, Mr Colin Powell, has tried to impress upon the United Nations security council that this is exactly what the president of Iraq is up to. Unfortunately for Mr Powell, for the American political establishment and especially for the president of the United States of America, Mr George W. Bush, that is neither here nor there. The report by the chief UN weapons inspector, Mr Hans Blix, presented to the meeting of the UN security council, makes clear that there is yet no proof that Iraq has “weapons of mass destruction”, or that it is cleaning up banned weapons sites just before inspection. Even the tapes of intercepted conversations between Iraqi officials and satellite pictures presented as “proof” by Mr Powell earlier can best be perceived as allegations, but nothing more than that. In other words, if the US has to prove to the world that its suspicions about Iraq’s hoard of weapons of mass destruction are correct, the weapons inspection must be given more time. That is the burden of the message being forcefully communicated by France, Germany, Russia and Belgium, against the US establishment’s furious resistance to inspections being “strung out” interminably.
The US’s unilateral war-mongering — backed by Mr Tony Blair’s Britain — has done it a disservice. Its European allies are now not only suggesting that the inspectors be given more time, since there can be no question of going to war without clinching proof, but also that discussions with Iraq should follow so that it accepts the condition of complete disarmament. Iraq has not disarmed, and whatever cooperation it has shown — which is far from perfect — it has come to step by small step, as and when compelled to. No doubt the threat of military intervention by the US has had its uses. But now Iraq is flourishing the banner of cooperation in a determined way, it is allowing interviews with its scientists, and reconnaissance flights in its airspace. Should the US and the United Kingdom decide to give battle now, they would be openly violating the perfectly legitimate and sensible demands of the countries that are asking for proof. The leaders of these countries have an ear to the ground too. The world is witnessing the most massive anti-war movement, and the message emanating from all corners of the globe is not simply “No proof, no war”. People all over the world are questioning the US’s motives and condemning the empty-headed violence and destruction of military intervention. It is up to the US to decide how far it will go.