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December 8: All or Nothing

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The Bush administration, and in particular the sometimes waffling Colin Powell, deserve full credit for successfully executing the intricate gavotte required to unanimously pass the new Security Council resolution requiring full disclosure and disarmament of Iraq.

But, having accomplished this, December 8, the deadline for full disclosure, becomes a critical, glowing neon line in the sand which cannot be fudged or budged lest “the game,” as Dennis Ross calls it in today’s WaPo, continue with Saddam inching ever closer to his goal line of weapons of mass destruction:

    In particular, Hussein has viewed nuclear weapons as the necessary shield behind which he will be protected as he reverts to the practice of invading his neighbors when he decides his interests require it. Will we be so quick to try to stop him once he has nuclear weapons? He calculates that we will be deterred, given the costs to our troops, and he is determined to acquire this capability.

    ….For the key to the success of the inspection regime is Iraq’s cooperation, and that is the test the administration must emphasize. The moment of truth will thus come for the resolution and for Hussein not at the moment the inspectors go to Iraq. It will come when Iraq, on Dec. 8, must provide a full accounting of all its WMD sites, programs, capabilities, developments and personnel.

    Hussein will certainly try to create the impression that he is complying with the resolution. No doubt he will turn over voluminous quantities of documents; he may even turn over materials he has heretofore hidden. But he will not turn over the crown jewels of his WMD programs — especially in the nuclear and biological areas. He will count on the chief inspectors — Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei — not wanting to declare he is in violation of his obligations before they have even sent full inspection teams into Iraq.

    ….All this does not mean we are now trapped by the resolution. But it does mean that the stakes in ensuring full disclosure on Dec. 8 are very high. If disarmament is the objective, the only possibility of achieving it without war will depend on Hussein’s understanding that anything less than full disclosure is, in fact, the trigger for war. Anything less than that will put us on a slippery slope that allows Hussein to play for time, make sure the inspectors find nothing in the early going — or find only what he wants them to find to “prove” he is cooperating.

    President Bush has set the stage for disarmament. Now he must condition the French, the Russians and the rest of the world to understand that the moment of truth comes not with the inspectors’ arrival but with the character of Iraq’s disclosure on Dec. 8.

In other words, we must be fully prepared to attack with overwhelming force December 9. It’s all or nothing and nothing has failed miserably.

Dennis Ross will answer questions about this article in a Live Online discussion at 1:30 p.m. (eastern) today at www.washingtonpost.com

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