The negative response from the Bush administration to the U.N. inspections in Iraq could be dismissed as childish pique were it not so telling an evocation of the image of the Ugly American making a grab for oil.
Like a playground bully, we have made it clear that there is no answer to our verbal demands that would forestall a punishing physical assault. Yet, to anyone not rabid for war, the United Nations inspections would seem to be going well. As regards the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein's dictatorship is now arguably the most open society in the world.
Certainly no other nation has been willing to allow deeply suspicious foreign experts access to every nook and cranny, even the dictator's bedroom, to ensure that bad things are not being done. And the Bush administration acknowledges that its satellites and other means of intelligence have failed to provide a smoking gun to refute Iraq's accounting of its own program.
What if the United States were subject to such an investigation? Might U.N. inspectors find the source of the anthrax used to terrorize the nation in a nerve-racking but as yet unsolved crime committed a year ago? Our government has said that the deadly anthrax brew was almost certainly not an imported product, so why has its origin eluded the world's most elaborate security force?
A bolder investigation would unearth the original U.S. designs for the weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological and nuclear -- that now haunt the world. If U.N. investigators were deployed here, they would discover that it was U.S. companies that quite often supplied the materials that permitted other countries to experiment with the means of killing us all.
What new devilish inventions are being worked on in that vast network that this nation has assiduously devoted to weapons of mass destruction for more than half a century? Perhaps our lab directors don't want the truth to come out and, like Saddam, are in need of a bracing visit from international inspectors empowered to offer the U.S. scientists safe exit and the security of a witness protection program.
U.N. inspectors could start with scientists at the national weapons lab at Los Alamos, whose directors only last month were forced to admit that highly classified computers and other equipment worth millions of dollars were stolen each year. Surely one of the scores of scientists who had access to the super-secret safe from which the sensitive laptop hard drives were stolen two years ago might be encouraged to break the wall of silence that has impeded the investigation.
Those hard drives, intended for use by emergency response teams in immobilizing weapons, contain the most detailed knowledge base on terrorist weapons of mass destruction and how they might be disarmed if found, for example, emitting radiation at some airport or in the Senate cloakroom. They constitute the ultimate terrorist cookbook. Yet government investigators still don't have a clue as to how those drives disappeared, only to be rediscovered hidden behind a copying machine in the lab.
Rest assured that if copies of those hard drives were to be found in Iraq, it would trigger a U.S. aerial blitzkrieg killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Iraqi men, women and children.
Perhaps our president, who was pointedly uninterested in global affairs before Sept. 11, does not know that in the matter of introducing weapons of mass destruction, it is we, and not some overseas "evildoers," who opened the door to this most heinous and ultimately suicidal perversion.
How could one blame George W. if he is among the vast majority of Americans who blissfully and conveniently forget that we are the only ones to ever actually use a nuclear weapon? Yes, this is all just history, and therefore of no interest to the chauvinistic babblers who dominate the national dialogue on U.S. airwaves. But it may explain why even those who love freedom and democracy as much as we do are frightened not only of Saddam Hussein, but increasingly of us.