Rob makes two related claims:
- It’s disingenuous to claim that we knew he didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction at the time because
- he was ignoring UN inspection demands.
It’s true that we didn’t know for sure whether or not Saddam had WMD but 2) is outright false.
It was thus a surprise to many observers when the Bush administration started agitating for war even though inspectors had been allowed to go wherever they wanted but hadn’t yet found anything.
I don’t remember anyone claiming at the time that Iraq definitely did not have WMD. I did hear lots of frustrated people complaining that, if Bush&Co had any evidence at all, they should just hand it over to Blix and Baradei and catch ’em red-handed. There were also lots of people – some of them French, one of them English – claiming that a second resolution authorizing an escalation of the inspections with specific triggers for war would settle the matter one way or another. Robert Wright suggests that this was all beside the point:
So why didn’t the administration try such a resolution? Lots of reasons, but the biggest one may have been fear of success. From the beginning, Bush wanted not just disarmament but regime change, and he worried that the former would preclude the latter; if inspectors actually found weapons, the world would insist on giving them time to find more weapons, ad infinitum. (Indeed, Bush seems to have signed onto Resolution 1441 on the assumption that Saddam wouldn’t let inspectors into Iraq.)
That was certainly my opinion – that Bush would settle for nothing less than regime change – at the time. Ultimately, I share Wright’s sorrow that this golden opportunity to prove that multilateralism – even acting through the oh-so-inept UN – can be successful was squandered. Not squandered, sabotaged.
The question is whether the United Nations offers an institutional framework through which the United States can pursue valid goals–such as disarming and sometimes even deposing regimes that have weapons of mass destruction in violation of international law–more effectively than it can pursue them outside the United Nations. The answer is that, in this case, it almost certainly could have.