I.F. Stone used to say that the Washington Post was a great newspaper because you never knew on what page you would find the front-page story. I find this rule to be highly variant in the case of the New York Times, which frequently puts great stuff on its front page but which often prints it upside down. This was especially so with last Thursday's headline: "Iraq Said to Have Tried to Reach Last-Minute Deal to Avoid War." The subhead was "Wary CIA Rebuffed Back-Channel Proposal."
If the Times wanted to give the impression that an 11th-hour chance for peace had been missed or rejected (an impression greatly reinforced by the selection of letters it has since chosen to print on the subject), then the headline was the overture to that interpretation. But James Risen's well-written and absorbing article actually sustains and fortifies the precisely opposite analysis. If his reportage is basically correct—and there is no reason to doubt it in essentials—then we must believe that some senior members of the Iraqi secret police, operating through a Lebanese businessman as intermediary, made urgent approaches to senior American policy hawks in February and March of this year. To avert an invasion, they were prepared to offer (and to offer in their dreaded leader's name) the following concessions:
1) proof that Iraq no longer possessed weapons of mass destruction, this proof to be confirmed by American military and civilian experts invited to see for themselves on the ground
2) the handing over of Abdul Rahman Yasin, indicted in the United States for his part in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and since that date a protected refugee in Iraq
3) support for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement as sponsored by Washington
4) the granting to the United States of "first priority" with respect to the exploitation of Iraqi oil and mineral rights
5) elections in Iraq as soon as two years hence.
What a bargain! But those who complain that it was turned down by a war-hungry Bush administration have (yet again) shown themselves to have a mainly if not exclusively nincompoopish mentality. Observe the following obvious points:
1) The Iraqi approaches were specifically directed toward the world of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith, all of them highly identified with the "regime change" policy. These approaches were also undertaken at a time when American and British forces had already commenced a serious deployment in Kuwait, Qatar, and elsewhere. This is clearly a tribute to the only force that was acting as a trigger or catalyst for change: the group that had decided that further coexistence with Saddam Hussein was at once ignoble and impossible. It wasn't a case of contacting the Carter Center in Atlanta and trying to buy some spurious time.
2) The Iraqi side openly conceded that UN inspections as then being conducted were a farce and a sham. Hassan al-Obeidi, chief of foreign operations of the Iraqi intelligence service, is at one point reported to have offered to allow "2,000 FBI agents" to enter Iraq and look at anything they wanted. He had clearly got bored with the easy and transparent routine of thwarting Hans Blix.
3) The Iraqi side clearly dropped all pretense that it had not been involved, for a very long time, in helping the forces of international gangsterism and nihilism. And it offered up Abdul Rahman Yasin, after almost a decade of protecting him.
4) The Iraqi side conceded without embarrassment that its violent opposition to a settlement of the Israel-Palestine dispute (this opposition taking the admitted form of direct subsidy to suicide murderers) was sheer opportunism and unconnected to any matter of principle.
5) The Iraqi side offered its mismanaged and beggared oil and mineral sectors on a plate to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In whatever order you take these points (the oil offer is especially good, given the widespread belief among our domestic nut bags that this has been a Halliburton war), they show that the core position of we the regime-changers was correct enough to be endorsed by the Baathists themselves. That's not the endorsement that one particularly or especially desired, but it must count for something.
Why did it get turned down, and why was it suspect? There was always the hope, in regime-change circles, that a show of force would do the job without a war, and this is the latest proof that it was also the only hope. But the Iraqis always had the option of confessing to the United Nations what they had done with their previously declared arsenal, and they never resorted even to that rather lenient forum in order to do so.
This holds true for all their other reported offers of concessions: either too little or too late, and made by way of secret policemen who would have made any list of wanted war-criminals. Of course such riffraff are often the first to realize that the game is up and that the bluff has been called. And their realization was absolutely 100 percent correct. It had been decided that a major and civilized nation should no longer be run by a crime family that was subverting the region, hosting nihilistic jihadists, and hiding past and present evidence of illegal weaponry (see any chapter of the David Kay report). As for the date of elections, that should be for the Iraqi people and not their murderers and torturers to determine.
It was long past time to make an end of the Saddam Hussein regime and start afresh: The risks of doing so are far outweighed by the risks and costs of not doing so. There need be no silly nostalgia for a "peace" offer that essentially confirmed the validity of these propositions.