The Inspection Game

Today, talks began between the U.N. weapons inspection team and the Iraqi government.
A brief refresher history: at first, there was the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), established in 1991 right after the end of the Gulf War. UNSCOM was the “mean” inspection team: they took their mandate to mean search anywhere, anytime. These are the guys who you heard about having shouting matches with Iraqi guards and promising cruise missiles if they didn’t get access through that door right now. (That was inspector-turned-flake Scott Ritter, if I remember correctly, during his aggressive phase).
But UNSCOM fell out of favor, and finally withdrew its people from Iraq in 1998. Then, in December 1999, the Security Council created the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). One key difference between UNMOVIC and UNSCOM is that UNMOVIC staff actually work for the U.N. — wheras UNSCOM personnel were paid by their home governments. This is a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you ask.
At this point, it is interesting to note how much appears to lie on one man: Hans Blix, the lead inspector and Chairman of UNMOVIC . If Blix goes into these meetings with a hard line, then we may see Iraq’s bluff crumble sooner, rather than later.
And here’s where we get to the interesting part. The “common wisdom” assumption is that Iraq is expecting to get a nice cushy inspection regime back. In particular, one that respects Iraq’s insane demands to respect the large “Presidental Areas”.
The common wisdom also seems to suggest that because the inspection regime currently on the table is based on UMOVIC, it will indeed be a loose one. That’s why we need a new resolution, say Tony and George.
But look closely at the recent statements from Hans Blix, and something interesting emerges.
In this ABC News piece, he told reporters that he was going into the talks with the assumption that no area was off limits to inspectors — explicitly including the presidential areas. And even back in March, he was stating that he needed “immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted” access to accomplish his mission.
So I ask: Could we be seeing yet another example of rope-a-dope?
While Blair and Bush appear to be putting all their hopes on a new U.N. resolution that allegedlly tightens up the inspection regime, here’s mild-mannered Dr. Blix, who appears to have every intention of demanding full access anyway. And if, indeed, he does, and as everyone expects, Iraq refuses to provide full access…
Well then, all those countries who said no new resolution is necessary may well be proved right — but not in the way that they expected.
The Bear Predicts: First, we’ll see the inspection talks break down this week, and it will become crystal clear that a) Blix was no pushover and drew a hard line and b) Iraq misjudged the new inspection plan badly, assuming that it would be a kind, gentle one.
At that point, French, Chinese, and Russian objections to the new resolution will go “poof”, and it will pass within the next few weeks. And after that… well, next stop Baghdad, most likely.
And yet again, Bush will have gotten exactly what he wanted by appearing to give his opponents exactly what they wanted…
Update: Hmmmm. Full disclosure: this Financial Times story suggests that perhaps Dr. Blix may waffle a bit after all: demanding access to presidential sites, but only under the previous arrangement that put conditions on that access. But then again, this piece from the Sydney Morning Herald has the following encouraging quote from an International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman: “We are not going to be negotiating here. We’re going to be laying on the table the requirements we’re going to have as inspectors.”
Perhaps I’ll be proved to be overly-optimistic: that doesn’t happen often, so I suppose that’s ok. We’ll see.
Update Again: Instapundit kindly links, and contrasted my rope-a-dope theory with a piece by Michiel Visser in which Michiel declares “Inspections are Useless”.
I don’t disagree, actually, if you’re talking about the inspections themselves: I don’t think they can possibly work to actually find all of Iraq’s weapons, as I’ve written before.
But what I’m noticing is that while it has been commonly acknowledged that the charade of inspections helps Iraq, in this case, the same charade is actually serving the interests of those who want to abandon inspections once and for all…