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A messy compromise

January 26th, 2003

I previously promised to set out my ideas for a messy compromise (there’s no other kind) on Iraq. I start with the assumption that Blix’s report tomorrow will report Iraqi compliance with the demands that were explicit in 1441 and formed the basis of most discussion beforehand, such as unfettered access to palaces, government offices and so on, but that compliance has been less satisfactory in other respects. The other basis of my analysis is that Saddam poses no significant threat in the short-term (say one year) or at least no threat that could be reduced by an invasion (the risk that he will give WMDs to terrorists is enhanced, not reduced by an invasion).

On this basis, the compromise I favor and think likely is one that allows for continued inspections while raising the bar on Iraqi compliance. Obvious instances include requiring U2 flights and unchaperoned interviews with scientists, with or without their consent. As regards the gaps in the Iraqi declaration that WMDs have been destroyed, there is an obvious analogy with the recent fuss over John Lott and his supposed survey. The appropriate strategy is to identify specific types of records of the destruction process that should exist and demand their production.
The basic idea of the compromise is to continue applying pressure on Iraq until we reach one of the following clear-cut outcomes:
(a) A ‘smoking gun’
(b) Clear Iraqi non-compliance with a specific demand
(c) A clean bill of health

The other pressure that needs to be applied is on the US, to ‘put up or shut up’ regarding its evidence for war. If they have evidence that there are weapons in some specific location they should tip off the inspectors and watch the site to make sure nothing is moved. If they have more general evidence, they should publish it to the world. And if they want to assert that the inspectors are leaking material to the Iraqis, they should offer some proof of that.

Obviously, an outcome leading to war could arise at any time. A clean bill of health, leading to the removal of sanctions might take longer, say six to eight months. I don’t see a problem with this if the Americans are prepared to keep up the threat of military action. And if they don’t have the patience to keep an invasion force on hold for a few months they clearly lack the capacity for the years of occupation and nation-building that would be required after an invasion.

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