As the Bush administration considers how to proceed on Iraq, it has to confront a growing contradiction in its public pronouncements. For months, President Bush has insisted that Baghdad allow United Nations inspectors complete and unfettered access to sites where they suspect weapons are being stored or produced. At the same time, American officials have made clear that Mr. Hussein's regime represents an unacceptable threat that must be removed, by force if necessary.
But what if Mr. Hussein lets United Nations inspectors back in and gives them complete access? Would the administration still insist on his removal? Yes, according to Secretary of State Colin Powell. "Even then," he told CNN last month, "the United States believes the Iraqi people would still be better off with a new kind of leadership that is not trying to hide this sort of development activity on weapons of mass destruction and is not of the despotic nature that the Saddam Hussein regime is." Recently, President Bush was even more direct in putting the focus on Saddam Hussein himself, rather than on his weapons. "He is a problem," Mr. Bush said, "and we're going to deal with him."
Elisa D. Harris is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland.
Ivo H. Daalder is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.