MARGARET WARNER: The approaching deadline for Iraq to declare its weapons of mass destruction has been accompanied by heated charges from both sides. The U.S. says Iraq is lying about its weapons program. Saddam Hussein said today the inspections would prove it's the U.S. that's lying. For perspective on all this, we turn to two commentators on international issues. Katrina Vanden Heuvel is editor of Nation Magazine. And Jim Hoagland is a columnist for the Washington Post. Welcome to you both.
Jim, why are we hearing this rhetoric? Even before the Sunday declaration, why are we hearing this rhetoric from the White House saying Saddam has always been a liar, he's still a liar?
JIM HOAGLAND: Well, this is the point that the administration has been coming toward since it decided to go to the United Nations for new a resolution spelling out tougher inspection terms. The administration put a lot of emphasis on getting this full statement and hopefully a truthful statement from the Iraqis, which will say, yes, we do have weapons of mass destruction, in which case the administration can play gotcha and demand that these weapons be destroyed or is more likely the Iraqis are left in a position of saying, no, we don't have any of these awful weapons of mass destruction.
We've just spent the last four years keeping inspectors out. We've given up $130 billion at least in terms of the sanctions that are imposed so we could keep the facilities, the ability to produce these weapons, but we don't really have them; hardly credible. So the administration feels that either way they will be able to build a good case against Saddam once this declaration comes out.
MARGARET WARNER: But, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, why call him a liar now in advance? Why do you think the administration is doing that rather than wait until Sunday?
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, I think that there is a fight within this administration. We get war rhetoric from some and then we get rhetoric from Colin Powell which is more in sync with general secretary Kofi Annan saying inspections will take time. It's not a one-week wonder. I think there is a yearning across this country and across the world for the inspections process to be pursued, to be pursued to the extent possible to avoid war and to be legitimized. That's what this resolution was about. Those who signed on to it in the Security Council had a double mission. One could call it double containment. They want to prevent the United States from going to war and contain Iraq.
There is great concern about destabilization in the region, a strong view that war is not necessary, that it will destabilize, perhaps make al-Qaida's political project even more powerful, and there is great suspicion even among close allies of the United States about the United States imperial ambitions in the region. If Iraq is first, is it then Iran and Syria? Let us pursue inspections to their utmost possibility. And if the United States on December 8 says, "We know you have nuclear... we know you have weapons of mass destruction," if they can come forward on North Korea as they have with their intelligence, let them come down to the security council and inspectors and not play a game in pursuit of regime change or a reckless, unnecessary war.
MARGARET WARNER: Jim Hoagland let's go back to an earlier point that Katrina Vanden Heuvel touched on about the inspections themselves. Would you interpret the rhetoric coming from the administration this week as essentially saying they don't have a lot of confidence in the inspections? I noticed yesterday, for instance, that the White House spokesman not only made sure that the press knew that the administration has let Hans Blix know, the head of the weapons team, that they want more aggressive inspections. What do you think is going on there? Why would they be talking about that now?
JIM HOAGLAND: Well, I think they're talking about two things that we have heard in the press briefings where officials at the White House have pointed to the historical record of the Iraqis having consistently, pervasively, almost non-stop lied about the weapons of mass destruction. This is a matter of historical record. This is not a matter of propaganda.
The second point is that there is skepticism about the ability of the inspectors operating in a country the size of California with a regime that practices great secrecy even on mundane things, that these inspectors will actually be able to produce a smoking poison gun canister in Saddam Hussein's hands. The results are likely to be ambiguous at best, and the administration is beginning to build its case for why Saddam Hussein has not changed. There has not been a strategic shift in his outlook about poison gas, about the other weapons of mass destruction that we know he's developed and lied about, and that's how the administration is framing the inspections. They are not there to prove that Saddam has disarmed. Saddam has to prove that he has disarmed.
It was interesting in his statements today that Saddam Hussein has tried to shift the focus, and he's described the job of the inspectors as disproving American allegations. There's certainly nothing in the resolution about that. And the United States is engaged as Saddam Hussein is in trying to focus, trying to shape the debate.
MARGARET WARNER: And so, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, explain what you make of the Iraqi rhetoric. Yesterday you have a senior Iraqi saying these inspectors are spies for the U.S. And Israel. Today Saddam Hussein says we're going to let the inspectors do their work because they're going to prove the U.S. is lying.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, much of this is for domestic consumption in Iraq. But let us not forget that the inspectors who worked in Iraq for about eight years had great success in dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. What is important I think is that we now... we see Iraq within the context of this administration's policy of pre-emptive war, which is really an overthrow of a defensive international tradition, American tradition, in favor of a destabilizing tradition counter to American norms and international law norms.
I think as I said earlier that if America has evidence, intelligence evidence, it goes to the U.N. and the Security Council, I might refer back to North Korea, which is a more hermetic, sealed society. Today Ari Fleischer said that North Korea didn't...Iraq, unlike North Korea, had a history of invading its neighbors. Mr. Fleischer might want to take a history lesson in terms of North Korea's invasion of South Korea in 1950, but more important is to legitimize inspections, to legitimize multilaterals in treaty and diplomacy in dealing with proliferation and chemical weapons and biological weapons and not resort to war as a first or second resort as this administration seems to want to, itching, as so many within it want to do and not putting, for example, the Middle East crisis on the front burner as many in the Security Council privately have told the U.S. Is the thing to do.
MARGARET WARNER: Jim Hoagland, do you think that when Sunday rolls around, and Ari Fleischer was pushed on this point today, that if the U.S. comes out and says this declaration is a falsehood that it should come forward publicly with evidence to back up the charge?
JIM HOAGLAND: Well, I think what the U.S. fears is that on Sunday or perhaps on Saturday, we're likely to get several thousand poorly copied photocopies of documents, some of them in Arabic, some of them in German, some of them in unknown languages, that will take a long time to absorb and to digest and to base analytical judgments on. That would be partial compliance of a very devious sort. That may well be what happens.
I think the administration though will not immediately come out with a statement. I think it will want to be seen to be studying these documents, and I think we've touched on an important point earlier in describing the work of the previous arms inspectors under the UNSCOM, Special Commission of the U.N., who did have success primarily because they were able to use information provided by defectors -- Saddam Hussein's brother-in-law, for example, son-in-law, who was then subsequently executed. Once they had that information from defectors, the inspectors were indeed able to do their job. I would not be at all surprised if there are not some recent defectors we don't know about yet who you will be hearing from once the Iraqis have made their declaration.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Jim, Katrina, don't go away because we want to hear from you further but we're going to turn now for a moment to how U.S. policy is seen elsewhere. Terence Smith looks at a new survey on that subject.