WASHINGTON – Several Washington lawmakers expressed dismay and resignation that war may be inevitable following Monday's detailed report of Iraq's failures to comply with weapons inspectors, which was delivered to the U.N. Security Council by its chief weapons inspectors.
"To this day, the Iraq regime continues to defy the will of the United Nations," said Secretary of State Colin Powell. "It has not given the inspectors or the international community any concrete information or answers to a host of critical questions ... Iraq's time for choosing peaceful disarmament is fast coming to an end."
And while many had hoped to avoid military force, several senators said they don't know how much longer Saddam Hussein can be permitted to defy the international community.
"They say they haven't had enough time, and on the other hand you hear from Secretary Powell that they could have had enough time. I don't know. The administration knows and I support their leadership on this score," said Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., at a press briefing to throw his support behind bringing back the draft.
"The president has all the authority required to hold Saddam accountable and eliminate the threat he poses. And I stand ready to support him should he conclude it is necessary to use that authority to protect our security," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., a 2004 presidential contender and sponsor of the Senate's Iraq resolution passed last fall.
In a toughly worded assessment of Iraq's cooperation with 60 days of inspections, Hans Blix, head of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, chided the Iraqis for failing to cooperate on substance "in order to bring the disarmament task to completion, through the peaceful process of inspection, and to bring the monitoring task on a firm course."
"Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it," Blix said.
His counterpart, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is charged with determining if Iraq has destroyed its nuclear weapons program, was more subdued, saying the Iraqis are cooperating with his questions. ElBaradei said he would seek more time for his inspectors to complete their search of weapons of mass destruction.
Several Washington lawmakers responded to the report by saying Iraq's intransigence has led to a point of no return.
"It's fairly clear from that report that although [the Iraqis] tried to put the trappings around complying, they have not actually complied," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. "You're seeing, I think, evasion and attempts by Iraq to use public opinion by having a procedural compliance to try to gain public support when in fact their substantive compliance has basically been non-existent."
Under Security Council Resolution 1441, crafted by Washington and adopted by a unanimous council in November, inspectors don't need to prove Iraq is rearming. Instead, the resolution states that any false statements or omissions in Iraq's arms declaration, coupled with a failure to comply with and cooperate fully in the implementation of the resolution, would place Baghdad in "material breach" of its obligations — a finding that could open the door for war.
President Bush has not indicated when or even if he may declare a war. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday that the president still sees war as a last resort and he wants to continue to consult with U.N. Security Council members, many of whom have expressed reluctance for military action, hoping that Saddam will comply over time.
But the administration added that time is not endless.
But some lawmakers continue to express reservations about the use of military force. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who has authored legislation re-instituting the draft, said he is waiting to hear from the White House about the connection between Saddam and terrorist leader Usama bin Laden. He added that the president needs to use Tuesday's State of the Union address to make the case that Iraq is a threat to the international community.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said not a lot of time has passed to allow inspectors to do their work.
"Having orchestrated the revival of an intrusive U.N.-led inspections process, it is important not to shut it down barely two weeks after it became fully staffed and equipped," Markey said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said that while she is concerned about the report's clear demonstrations of non-compliance, she worries about the impact of war.
"What concerned me most about it was Iraq has not granted permission for U2 flights ... and aerial reconnaissance is critical to any kind of arms inspection ... so that becomes a consequential, in my view, failing," she said. But "to launch a unilateral attack, although we could win the war, whether we can really keep the peace, the jury is out. And what happens with the rest of the Arab world, the jury is out. And the repercussions of that and the chasm it could create for decades to come with consequences we can't even begin to think about. ... There is no alternative to cooperating with the United Nations Security Council."
But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former Vietnam prisoner-of-war who has been cautious in his support for the use of military force, said Monday that the United States cannot be left vulnerable by a rigid and fearful Security Council.
"Failure to disarm Saddam would lead to catastrophic consequences for our national security. If the council chooses the course of convenience over adherence to the terms of a resolution that has the force of international law, the United States cannot shirk our responsibility — in the face of the clear threat posed by Iraq — to provide to the American people the security the council seems powerless to deliver," McCain said.
Lieberman added that he thinks the president needs to make a stronger case to the American people about why Saddam poses a threat to security and should be forcefully disarmed.
The president is expected to address the issue during Tuesday night's State of the Union address.