For a start: he didn't.
Contrary to present conventional wisdom, the inspectors left on their own -- for their own safety from the bombs of Operation Desert Fox, after a warning from the US ambassador to the UN. Read it in the words of the then boss of UN inspectors, Richard Butler:
I received a telephone call from US Ambassador Peter Burleigh inviting me for a private conversation at the US mission... Burleigh informed me that on instructions from Washington it would be `prudent to take measures to ensure the safety and security of UNSCOM staff presently in Iraq.'... I told him that I would act on this advice and remove my staff from Iraq.
Richard Butler: Saddam Defiant, p. 224
What Saddam did was not letting back the inspectors. Why? Because they weren't only working hard on finding nonexistent WMD, but undercover agents posing as UN inspectors spied out Saddam's palaces and installed electronics to guide bombs. Said who? The Boston Globe (January 6, 1999), the Washington Post (January 6 and 17, March 2 1999), the New York Times (January 7, 1999), and Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker (April 5, 1999).
Even during the run-up to Dubya's Iraq War, there were reported repercussions of this story. We learnt the following from Rolf Ekeus, 1991-7 head of the UN inspections body UNSCOM:
In aseparate interview with Svenska Dagbladet, the Swedish newspaper, Mr Ekeus said that he had learnt after he left his position that the US had placed two of its own agents in the group of inspectors.
Financial Times, July 30, 2002
...and the NYT noted UN reforms the spy scandal led to -- in the last paragraph of an article on Powell:
The reform followed the disclosure that a United States spy on the United Nations team had planted an electronic eavesdropping evice in Baghdad that helped guide allied bombing in 1998.
New York Times, October 2, 1999
So before Niger yellowcake forgeries, aluminum tubes and Plamegate, the Bush admin had the media relaying a propaganda that wasn't even based on any distorted or made-up intel, just on collective amnesia. As I still remembered in summer 2002 the uproar the original reports caused in Europe in early 1999, I felt I went through the looking glass. Just look at what the same newspapers reported with barely fours years difference:
"Butler ordered his inspectors to evacuate Baghdad, in anticipation of a military attack, on Tuesday night--at a time when most members of the Security Council had yet to receive his report."
--Washington Post, 12/18/98
"Since 1998, when U.N. inspectors were expelled, Iraq has almost certainly been working to build more chemical and biological weapons."
--Washington Post editorial, 8/4/02
"But the most recent irritant was Mr. Butler's quick withdrawal from Iraq on Wednesday of all his inspectors and those of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iraqi nuclear programs, without Security Council permission. Mr. Butler acted after a telephone call from Peter Burleigh, the American representative to the United Nations, and a discussion with Secretary General Kofi Annan, who had also spoken to Mr. Burleigh."
--New York Times, 12/18/98
"America's goal should be to ensure that Iraq is disarmed of all unconventional weapons.... To thwart this goal, Baghdad expelled United Nations arms inspectors four years ago."
--New York Times editorial, 8/3/02
Quote pairs from a lot more sources at FAIR.
So, what really happened?
UNSCOM vs. CIA
From the very birth of UNSCOM, the loyalty of American inspectors was a question.
...in September of 1991, when a U.N. inspection team was detained by Iraqi forces in a Baghdad parking lot for four days, after its leaders refused to return newly discovered documents dealing with efforts by Iraq to obtain nuclear weapons. To Ekeus's surprise, some details of the parking-lot standoff were made public by the Bush Administration--an American member of the UNSCOM delegation had been signalling privately to the United States via a secure satellite-telephone link. Ekeus upbraided the American for his back-channel reporting to Washington, and soon received an angry telephone call from Richard Clarke, the director of the State Department's office of political-military affairs.
"He said they"--the American inspectors--"should report to him and not to the United Nations," Ekeus recalled, adding dryly, "We had a nasty conversation." Ekeus held his ground, and refused to authorize any independent reporting from his inspection teams to Washington. "The Americans were irritated at us because they could not control the flow of information," he said.
Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker, April 5, 1999
There was also repeated conflict over sharing intelligence. A more fundamental problem was one of conflicting goals: UNSCOM wanted to disarm Iraq, the USA wanted to foment regime change. One of the resolutions establishing UN inspections in Iraq, UN SC 687, contains this passage:
22. Decides that upon the approval by the Security Council of the programme called for in paragraph 19 above and upon Council agreement that Iraq has completed all actions contemplated in paragraphs 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 above, the prohibitions against the import of commodities and products originating in Iraq and the prohibitions against financial transactions related thereto contained in resolution 661 (1990) shall have no further force or effect;
That is, in return for cooperation, Iraq is promised an end to sanctions once it is found clear of WMD. But this incentive is void (and the UN's credibility damaged) if a veto power says such things:
At this juncture, my view is we don't want to lift these sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power.
President George H. W. Bush, May 20, 1991
Before taking office, Bill Clinton gave noises suggesting a changing policy, but once President, he could be pushed to followed a similar line. What was different was a more clever framing: instead of letting slip out outright declarations like Papa Bush above, the official line was that Iraq has to comnply with all UN Resolutions before sanctions are lifted. E.g.:
We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted. Our view, which is unshakable, is that Iraq must prove its peaceful intentions. It can only do that by complying with all of the Security Council resolutions to which it is subject.
Is it possible to conceive of such a government under Saddam Hussein? ...the evidence is overwhelming that Saddam Hussein's intentions will never be peaceful.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, March 25, 1997
I note that the fact that sanctions and the inspections regime aren't tied to other resolutions was noted even in the upper house of the British parliament, by Lord Healey (Labour):
Lord Healey, when addressing the British parliament, put it most succinctly when he remarked, "Though many wish Iraq would comply with Resolution 688 [on respecting human rights], it must be emphasized that legally and technically there is no link between this resolution and the sanctions regime" (Markinson A9).
UN Sanctions Against Iraq: Sanctioned Suffering by Sam Picture Jr.
As for the non-official line:
Albright it is said, had one agenda: Not WMD, not disarmament, just the removal of Saddam Hussein...
Some diplomats at the U.N. tell NewsMax that Albright's determination to get rid of Saddam had become very "personal."
NewsMax, Nov. 7, 2003
Albright's views might have been shaped by a 1994 showdown. A month after completing the destruction of its chemical weapons, and after Rolf Ekeus declared Iraq essentially in compliance with Res. 687 and proposed a six-month probation period before ending sanctions, Iraq demanded the implementation of UN SC Res. 687 §22 (quoted above) by a set deadline, threatened to end cooperation with UN inspectors, and began to move troops into South Iraq's Shi'a areas (see UNSCOM timeline). One could think: why let Iraq off the hook based on lack of WMD, if it continues to persecute minorities and threaten neighbours? However, to protect human rights, she ignored humanitarian plight, of even worse magnitude, e.g. the famous lines:
Reporter Leslie Stahl: "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And - and you know, is the price worth it?"
Secy. of State Madeleine Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it."
"60 Minutes", May 12, 1996
Working for a regime change
Note that Clinton first bombed Iraq for the famous plot to kill his predecessor (Dubya: "After all this is the guy who tried to kill my dad!") -- a decision that resulted from pressure by the national security establishment, the aim to counter Republican attacks of appearing weak, and unreliable intel presented with spin, as analysed by Seymour M. Hersh back in 1993 (but the alleged assassination plot nevertheless turned unquestioned history in public memory).
The Clinton admin also took over a Papa Bush project for regime change in Iraq: organising a coup. This gathered steam once George Tenet took office as head of CIA. Steven Richter, head of CIA's Near East Division, was in charge of plotting a coup.
...Just before his promotion, Richter had been deeply involved in the machinations of a group of high-level Iraqi defectors who he and his superiors thought provided the best hope of eliminating Saddam.
..."He's in control, and you don't question him," the intelligence officer told me. "He's driven off the talented core of Arabists."
Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker, April 5, 1999
Giving too much credibility to Iraqi expats, leaning on and driving away intel analysts -- does that remind of some more recent happenings? At any rate, the CIA-supported officers' coup failed spectacularly in 1996:
...one of Saddam's loyal officers contacted the C.I.A. station chief in Amman on a supposedly secure agency communications link and informed him that Saddam knew all the detailed plans of the coup and had rounded up and executed scores of those involved.
Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker, April 5, 1999
It was during this operation that CIA agents started to operate disguised as UNSCOM inspectors. After the coup failure, focus shifted to air strikes.
In 1997, UNSCOM head Rolf Ekeus, a Swede, was replaced by Richard Butler, an Australian more unquestioning towards the Clinton admin's line on Iraq. He made Charles Duelfer, the later second head of Dubya's Iraqi Survey Group, his right arm. When Butler took over, the cat-and-mouse play between Saddam's regime and UNSCOM over access to sites intensified.
The Clinton government began to argue for UNSCOM searches in government buildings. This led to a crisis in November, when Saddam refused entry to American UN inspectors on the (as we later saw, justified) suspicion of spionage. The opportunity for airstrikes was created -- but Madeleine Albright didn't find support in the Gulf, and other powers worked to solve the impasse. In December, Butler even reached an agreement with Iraq over easier access to all so-called sensitive sites but Saddam's palaces, which the regime declared out of limits.
Note that up until the fall of 1997, Saddam's palaces were a non-issue. Rolf Ekeus said later:
Most damning, he said that the US and other members of the Security Council pressed the teams to inspect sensitive areas, such as Iraq's ministry of defence, when it was politically favourable for them to create a crisis situation. "They [Security Council members] pressed the inspection leadership to carry out inspections which were controversial from the Iraqis' view, and thereby created a blockage that could be used as a justification for a direct military action," he said.
Financial Times, July 30, 2002
Specifically on the palaces, Scott Ritter wrote:
This issue of inspections of presidential palaces is a product of American politics. In 1998, the Clinton administration wanted to stick it in Saddam's face. They demanded "any time, anywhere" inspections of palaces because they knew the Iraqis would resist. They were looking for any excuse to stick it to the Iraqis, so they said, "We need access to these sites."
But the inspectors never asked for such access. We had no reason to go there. But (Clinton's Secretary of State) Madeleine Albright and (National Security Advisor) "Sandy" Berger made it an issue, so we had to go there.
It appears that the palaces were Madeleine Albright's idée fixe, from her time as Ambassador to the UN:
In April of 1995, then U.N. Iraq arms chief Rolf Ekeus, briefed the Security Council on his latest findings on chemical and biological weapons (WMD):
"She [Albright, then U.S. ambassador] did not seem to care about or understand the importance of the findings," explained Ekeus. "She was more interested in what was going on in Saddam's presidential palaces," he added.
NewsMax, Nov. 7, 2003
Another much-repeated Bushista talking point from 2002-3 was that Saddam never let the inspectors into his palaces. As it happens, this was a lie using collective amnesia, too.
Though this is obvious to most only in hindsight, the history of UN inspections in Iraq was a history of Saddam boldly declaring "this far and no further", and then still backing down a little later to save his ass.
In this case, the pressure was a buildup of US forces in the Gulf, and public talk of unilateral strike by a US administration that again failed to win allies for military intervention. Saddam bowed to pressure in February 1998, accepting Kofi Annan's terms for visits to his palaces (also see UN SC Res. 1154).
Our inspections of the Presidential sites were eventually conducted over a period of ten days, and on April 15, a report on these 'entries' (in the UN vernacular) was presented to the Security Council.
Richard Butler: Saddam Defiant, p. 164
Once inside the inspectors could do anything. There were no restrictions. We could look at Saddam's toilet. We could go everywhere. We could take core samples. We could take water samples. We could swab the walls for traces of biological or chemical agents and assure ourselves that nothing was happening.
Target exploration: done.
Scott Ritter leaves
Meanwhile, Scott Ritter, then still a gung-ho American UN inspector fully believing in both his mission and his government, was happy: an informal signal-intelligence unit he set up within UNSCOM finally managed to crack the code of Saddam's phone. But Ritter's joy didn't last for long.
The Americans felt that Ritter's intelligence was too important to be left to arms controllers. For the first time, with the aid of intercepts, Saddam's hour-to-hour whereabouts could conceivably be tracked--and even anticipated. Within a few months, the Clinton Administration persuaded Richard Butler, ... to tell Ritter and his men in Baghdad that they would have to get out of the signals-intelligence business...
Thus, in April of 1998, operational control of the Saddam intercepts shifted to one of America's least publicized intelligence units, the Special Collection Service. The S.C.S., which is jointly operated by the C.I.A. and the N.S.A...
Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker, April 5, 1999
This was serious matter. The inspectors felt it, even without knowing of plans for airstrikes:
The UNSCOM team in Baghdad felt betrayed, and believed that it would now be vulnerable to capture and prosecution by Iraq on espionage charges. The team's equipment was still intercepting crucial telephone calls, but the United States was controlling the "take." ... the UNSCOM operation was shut down until July, when the Americans unilaterally installed their own collection devices in the UNSCOM offices in Baghdad.
Seymour M. Hersh in The New Yorker, April 5, 1999
Meanwhile, during the next crisis (see below), Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger also had enough of Ritter pressuring the regime out of sync with their schedule, and had Butler limit his powers. On 26 August, Ritter sent a bitter resignation letter to Butler. He'd say four years later:
This is the reality: When Madeleine Albright called up Richard Butler and said, "Jump!" Richard Butler always said, "How high?" It was obvious from day one.
Getting Saddam to throw out the inspectors
At this point, the Clinton administration could believe it has every info to take out Saddam in an airstrike. What it didn't have was a casus belli. But the regular confrontations over UN SC Res. 687, paragraph 22 could provide for that.
Russia tried and failed to get Security Council action today on a resolution declaring that Iraq had complied with demands to destroy its nuclear weapons program and was ready to move away from intrusive inspections to long-term monitoring... Russia has been arguing that those files can be 'closed' one at a time, to give Iraq some motivation for further cooperation. The United States has held that all requirements must be met before sanctions can be altered.
The New York Times, July 30, 1998
After further talks with Butler won them nothing, Iraq responded by ceasing cooperation with UN inspectors, but left monitoring in place. This wasn't yet enough, this was when Ritter had to be 'restrained'.
Months of diplomatic tussle followed, also involving other UN SC members. Then on October 30, 1998, Russia and France brought in a draft resolution with a general wording on refining sanctions, but clearly aimed at reforming sanctions against Iraq:
13. The Security Council should address the basic policy issue of flexibility and graduality in the imposition of sanctions. The experience of recent years and the practice of the Security Council confirm that in many situations - although not necessarily in all of those requiring the imposition of sanctions - it is preferable to use the approach of a targeted and "flexible response" as opposed to "massive retaliation". Given that all the United Nations sanctions currently in operation, with the exception of those imposed on Iraq, are targeted sanctions, it would be useful to take stock of the experience gained and to formulate general guidelines for the future decision-making on sanctions.
But, you'd say, surely this is just make-business-with-dictators France and Russia speaking their economic interest? Note that this draft contained such inflammatory parts like the following, one meeting the endorsement of Human Rights Watch:
2. Sanctions are designed to change the behaviour of the targeted government (or party) and to deter other governments (or parties) from similar behaviour. However, they often produce undesired side effects for the civilian population, including children. The decisions of the Security Council to impose sanctions imply the Council's obligation to ensure that proper implementation of sanctions does not result in violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and its responsibility to do all within its power for the respect of the basic economic, social and cultural rights, and other human rights of the affected population.
But the US government wasn't moved, and reiterated its refusal to ease the oil embargo unless there is compliance with all resolutions. The draft resolution was squashed by an effective veto threat.
Saddam caught the hook. At first. Iraq declared that it views the mandate of UNSCOM void, and won't cooperate at all. (But they still didn't apply their rejection to nuclear watchdog IAEA.)
However, Saddam again sensed danger, especially after UN SC Res. 1205, so words weren't followed by action. After two weeks, just before airstrikes would have begun, Saddam again pledged cooperation, UNSCOM resumed normal work, and the Clinton administration had to scrap together a Plan B.
So they waited until the next report to the UN SC, on December 14, 1998. Then they used it as 'proof' of Saddam's continued lack of cooperation. Now let me first quote from Annan's intro:
The report from IAEA states that Iraq "has provided the necessary level of cooperation to enable the above-enumerated activities to be completed efficiently and effectively.
The report from UNSCOM includes material that relates to issues prior to l7 November 1998. With regard to the period since then, the report presents a mixed picture and concludes that UNSCOM did not enjoy full cooperation from Iraq.
In the light of the findings and conclusions contained in the reports, taken together, the Council may wish to consider three possible options:
- That the experience over the period since 17 November 1998 does not provide a sufficient basis to move forward with a comprehensive review at this time.
- That Iraq has not provided full cooperation but that it should be permitted additional time to demonstrate its commitment to do sc.
- That the Council may wish to proceed with a comprehensive review on the premise that it is sufficiently important to know precisely what has been achieved in the area of disarmament over the entire period since 1391.
None of the three possibilities mentions war and bombing. Or authorises unilateral action by member states.
Also, while Butler's report was a litany of problems in cooperation, with a negative conclusion, what it didn't was documenting total lack of cooperation, e.g.:
In statistical terms, the majority of the inspections of facilities and sites under the ongoing monitoring system were carried out with Iraq's cooperation. Problems arose which indicated that the limitations Iraq had imposed on the monitoring system, on 5 August 1998, have not been fully rescinded.
The rest we already knew: after being warned by the American ambassador to the UN, without UN SC authorisation, Butler withdrew his inspectors, and American and British bombers flew rounds over Iraq.
Conclusion (or: foreign policy continuity)
That UNSCOM's success in disarming Iraq wasn't apparent enough to contemporaries had multiple reasons. Saddam first destroyed much of his WMD arsenal with the apparent calculation that with nothing to find, the world won't even learn most of what he had, he'll be cleared, and can restart production after. But UNSCOM found all that was left behind by the sloppy destroyers, and after finishing with it about 1994, has gone after the documentation.
But having caught Iraq lying, admissions of destroying WMD were met with doubt, and inspectors thought that just the claim that there isn't much documentation left of the destruction is the most suspicious. When Hussein Kamel defected in 1995, and also told UNSCOM that all WMD was destroyed, Ekeus et al believed he is a "consummate liar", and preferred to keep the transscript of the interview secret (which was infamously capitalised on by the Bush admin spin machine when they claimed Kamel exposed stuff UNSCOM had no clue about), to bluff Saddam into pre-emptive admissions (successfully: documents miraculously turned up at a chicken farm -- belonging to Kamel). All inspectors, including Rolf Ekeus and Scott Ritter, acted at the time as hunters on a trail. So the groupthink noted (as excuse) after the current admin's WMD fiasco was present at some level for a long time.
However, we saw above that this groupthink into wrong directions was greatly enhanced both in the US intel community and, by way of pressure and influence through leading inspectors, in UNSCOM, thanks to US governments that didn't have a sufficiently critical mind, yet wanted to control world events.
The foreign policy of successive Republican, Democrat, Republican (and, hopefully, soon-to-be Democrat) administrations was not identical. For example, the Clinton administration might have had more idealistic reasons to bet on regime change than the Bush admins before and after. However, the successive foreign policies were chained together.
Clinton continued Papa Bush's sanctions, no-fly zones and coup plotting. The way Clinton sold Desert Fox with spin, started it without UN SC authorisation, terminated peaceful and successful even if bothersome inspections, and failed to foresee the consequences, was repeated in a bigger way by the current Bush administration (and not without support from Clinton himself). To not see a repeat performance from 2009, a clear break is needed.
Bureaucratic inertia, a media not critical enough of official claims and with a short memory, a general assumption that the USA must steer world events with ultimate regard only for its own opinions, and pressure to toe the line from the establishment in politics and media carried through a lot.
It's hard to say how successful UNSCOM had been had the USA not complicated matters by pursuing its own agenda, and how much Saddam's dictatorship could have been kept in check. But one thing is clear: US policy towards Iraq had goals, always justified with great ideals, perhaps some were even truly felt, but the unilateral actions taken to achieve it were dommed to fail. Policymakers were without any clue about how those goals could truly be achieved, and had near-total disregard for side consequences. The "we had to destroy the village to save it" mentality runs deep in the US foreign policy establishment, Albright's humanitarian-crisis-for-human-rights gamble was a monumental example.
This is how the Iraq policy of two successive US administrations unravelled with Desert Fox: while nonexistent WMD weren't hit, Saddam wasn't dead, several civilians were dead, and a successful weapons monitoring operation was terminated. And had Saddam been hit, the Clinton government had no more plans for the Day After than the Bush admin in 2003.