Joe Conason's Journal

Bush wants the U.N. to lift economic sanctions. The U.N. wants to verify any WMD. Let's make a deal.

Published April 17, 2003 5:02PM (EDT)

How to lift sanctions
Now that the administration has lowered the terror alert level and the president has flown off to relax in Crawford, do you suppose it's OK to say something that might be interpreted as critical? I hope so, because I'm going to say it anyway.

Yesterday, Bush publicly asked the U.N. Security Council to lift economic sanctions on Iraq because, as he noted, the regime changed. The immediate purpose of lifting sanctions is to allow oil to flow once more so that reconstruction can begin. In other words, now that we have finished blowing the place to bits, please let us pay ourselves to rebuild it with Iraq's oil revenues. It's a wonderful way of doing business, especially for Republican Party contributors in the weapons, energy and construction industries that earn billions on both ends.

Does that sound too cynical? Sorry, but it's hard not to notice that the original justifications for this war have evaporated without a trace, like that very specific list of chemical and biological weapons trumpeted by the president in his State of the Union message. Anyone who listened to that speech would now reasonably expect our forces to be finding "25,000 liters" of anthrax, "38,000 liters" of botulinum toxin, "500 tons" of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent, and "29,984" munitions capable of delivering chemical agents -- along with a hidden nuclear weapons industry.

While none of that stuff has turned up yet, it's also difficult to ignore the administration's overwhelming concern, from the beginning of the conflict, about oil fields, the Oil Ministry in Baghdad, and now the prospect of selling Iraqi oil on the world market.

So here's a modest proposal: The U.N. Security Council, several of whose members don't appreciate the manner in which Iraq contracts are being monopolized by American companies, should place a simple condition on permanent removal of sanctions. As soon as the U.S. can prove that there are no more weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the sanctions will be lifted for good. Until then, the Security Council can lift sanctions temporarily -- if the U.S. and Britain bring UNMOVIC in to monitor and certify the results of the ongoing weapons search.

Actually, the Security Council would be doing the White House and Downing Street a great favor by insisting on that point, whether Bush and Blair realize it or not. Without U.N. verification, most of the world will regard any U.S. discovery of chemical or biological weapons with utter disbelief, as Secretary-General Kofi Annan has gently suggested.
[10:06 a.m. PDT, April 17, 2003]

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