THERE ARE FEW journalistic endeavors more perilous than speculating about future events. There are so many ways for forecasts to prove wrong, so many opportunities for the person making them to look foolish. Yet the temptation to get a head start on the news—and the slim promise of looking prescient in the process—is too compelling.
So with no further ado, below are three predictions regarding Secretary of State Colin Powell’s much-anticipated address before the United Nations and its aftermath:
1. Powell will present a case no reasonable person can deny.
In his Monday Wall Street Journal op-ed, Powell gives some hint as to what sort of presentation the world can expect from him. "While there will be no ‘smoking gun,’ we will provide evidence concerning the weapons programs that Iraq is working so hard to hide," he writes. "We will, in sum, offer a straightforward, sober and compelling demonstration that Saddam is concealing the evidence of his weapons of mass destruction, while preserving the weapons themselves."
Elsewhere, we get some indication of what that demonstration might entail: Transcripts of bugged conversations between Iraqi officials boasting of their ability to deceive UN weapons inspectors, more proof that Saddam Hussein’s government is intimidating its scientists, and perhaps some hint of connections between the Iraqi regime and al Qaeda.
Is that a smoking gun? That depends, as Bill Clinton would say, on what your definition of a smoking gun is.
For those looking for proof that Hussein is plotting something unsavory, something the civilized world would be wise to nip in the bud, the barrel on Powell’s figurative firearm will be smoldering like Mt. St. Helens.
2. Although no reasonable person will be able to deny Powell’s case, unreasonable people (the hate-America left) will deny it nonetheless.
As I noted in this space last week, compelling evidence of Iraq’s malfeasance and the attendant dangers is already abundant—just read the January 27 UNMOVIC and IAEA reports to the UN. All Powell is doing now is piling on, making the mountain of evidence so large that only the most willfully blind can continue to ignore it.
Opponents of extending the War on Terror to Iraq generally fall into one of three distinct but overlapping groups: Hard-core leftists who reflexively oppose any policy that promotes American security; world leaders too wedded to an outdated status quo to accept the international imperatives of the post-9/11 world; and American Democratic politicians who, despite formally voting to support the war, can’t bring themselves to support Bush too eagerly, and must answer to the hard-left voting bloc that tends to dominate the party’s presidential primaries.
So far, for these groups, the sort of evidence that UN inspectors have already provided and which Powell seems likely to supplement has been inadequate. Nothing short of a nuclear bomb bearing a "Made in Iraq" sticker in the possession of an al Qaeda terrorist on American soil seems sufficient to convince them. They made up their minds about the Blix report even before he issued it, and they have likely already made up their minds about Powell’s presentation, too.
3. People who are ultimately reasonable (or at least self-preserving), but innately cowardly (various Democratic lawmakers and leaders of some declining European powers), will accept Powell’s argument—provided that he delivers it resolutely.
That said, I’m willing to go out on a limb and suggest that while Powell could never persuade the hard-core "peace activist" types, he stands a fair chance of winning over most Democratic lawmakers and world leaders.
It might not happen right away. If Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is any indication, Democratic politicians would like to straddle the fence as long as possible. Rockefeller, who has received intelligence briefings and presumably knows what Powell plans to share with the world, continues to spout that craven Democratic dodge: "I’m still not convinced."
The question is, is such talk real, or is it only bluster? As Bush has demonstrated before, in obtaining both Congressional and UN approval, Democrats and world leaders are prone to backing down when challenged.
Democratic politicians read polls, and as such they can see what the establishment media have been reluctant to admit, that a growing majority of Americans back the President’s position.
International leaders, likewise, know better than to pick a fight with the world’s only superpower for no reason better than preserving Saddam Hussein’s power. Arab states and the New Europe have come around to support the U.S., and even China and Russia are likely headed in the same direction. As for Old Europe, Germany’s carping is inconsequential and France, according to British officials, has signaled that it won’t use its Security Council veto to block a new UN resolution explicitly authorizing the use of force.
The determining factor in what kind of support the Administration gets, both in Washington and in the UN, is the Administration’s resolve. Domestic and international nitpickers will continue picking nits only as long as they think it might yield favorable results. Once they realize that the Administration plans to move forward with or without them, they won’t want to be left behind.
The same could be said for Iraqi internal opposition, both organized forces and members of Hussein’s regime who, by taking on the burden of removing the dictator themselves, could do the world a favor by making war unnecessary. Nothing short of belief that an invasion—and, thus, their deaths—is inevitable will give them the requisite courage to act.
So for Powell, success before the UN will ride less on the strength of his evidence and more on the depths of his conviction. If he begs for the world’s support and approval, he’s unlikely to get either. If he makes the case for why America is prepared to act regardless of the world’s blessing, he’ll find a lot of reluctant, sudden allies who will believe that—at long last—they’ve seen a smoking gun.