Last week in front of the United Nations Security Council, US Secretary of State Colin Powell outlined Iraq’s non-compliance with all the relevant UN disarmament resolutions, particularly Resolution 1441, passed unanimously last fall. The speech was persuasive in part because of the deliberateness and dryness of the delivery. The lack of emotion created an aura of objectivity that ultimately supplemented Powell’s already formidable credibility.

Nonetheless, there is no amount of evidence that the mind of man cannot connive to ignore. The pre-prepared dismissive response by the French made clear that they were immune to any evidence presented in Powell’s presentation. But this behavior was consistent with the fact that the French no longer subscribe to the findings explicitly listed in Resolution 1441, they signed a few short months ago. Duplicity is common, indeed normative, in diplomacy, but the recent French verbal summersaults raises dishonesty to an art form.

To add to the irony, French and German intransigence allows the Iraq regime to maintain the illusion that it can delay and obfuscate to dissipate the current crisis, while maintaining its chemical and biological weapons stockpiles. If the French and the Germans insisted upon Iraq compliance and made clear that it supported the grievous consequences that would follow non-compliance, Iraq would be more likely to be compelled into compliance. French and German actions are almost certainly guarantee military action against Iraq.

However, what is more curious are the people who were swayed by Powell. Washington Post pundit Mary McGrory recently penned a column entitled, “I’m Persuaded.” Though she hasn’t signed on for military action, she finally conceded that, “I heard enough to know that Saddam Hussein with his stockpiles of nerve gas and death-dealing chemicals, is more of a menace than I thought … Powell convinced me that it might be the only way to stop the fiend, and that if we go, there is reason.”

Now I am certain that McGrory is an intelligent, thoughtful, and honest pundit, but what did Powell convince her of that was not already plain, that was not already stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 1441? Powell may have fleshed out details with newer and more explicit evidence, but it only served to cement the certainty dispassionate observers should have already acquired. Surely, we have all known throughout the 1990s that Hussein had formidable stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons; even former President Bill Clinton told us so. If Hussein did not have such weapons, why would he endure economic sanctions that cost him tens of billons of dollars in oil revenues? All he had to do was explicitly list his weapons programs and stockpiles and allow the UN inspectors to certify their destruction to radically increase his country’s, and thus his own, income. Indeed, the potential income the he relinquished is a measure of the value Hussein places on these despicable weapons. Why would he need these anti-population weapons if his only intention were to live in peace with his neighbors?

It is impossible to conduct a controlled experiment, but it is reasonable to speculate that if George Bush had read the exact presentation that Powell delivered, word-for-word, photograph-for-photograph, McGrory would not have been persuaded. McGrory was not swayed by the evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and perpetual duplicity, sufficient evidence has been available for quite some time. She was persuaded because at some very intuitive level she trusts Powell more than Bush. She was not persuaded by Powell’s evidence or eloquence, but by his judgment and perhaps simply his persona.

But why should this be the case? Has Bush had a habit of mendacity? Right or wrong, does anyone seriously believe that Bush is not acting on what he at least perceives to be the best interests of the country? As intelligent and honorable as Powell is, his judgment about Iraq has not been flawless. He counseled an early cessation of hostilities during the Gulf War. A short continuation of the war might have destroyed the Republican Guard and fatally destabilized Hussein’s regime. This was not a moral failing on Powell’s part, just an honest mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. Over the last year, Powell’s position has shifted far closer to those of the hawk’s in the Bush Administration, then they to his. Powell is the one that has been persuaded and now he persuades McGrory.

No, McGrory has fallen victim to the cartoon of Bush as either a buffoon or bloodthirsty cowboy willing to capriciously risk American forces, only restrained by the adult supervision of Powell. The iron bars of her own misconceptions imprison her. Thus, Powell’s real value is to pry open the minds of those caulked and sealed shut against the Administration. In her column, McGrory has revealed far more about her own refusal to evaluate Iraq’s threat than about Powell’s persuasiveness.

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