Since the Gulf War over a decade ago, sanctions have tried to prevent Iraq from openly purchasing many things, particularly weapons materiel.
But no sanctions, and no United Nations resolution, have been able to stop Saddam Hussein from buying his most precious commodity.
That's essentially all he is doing in announcing a sudden willingness to entertain U.N. weapons inspectors again.
He hasn't seen the light. He's only seen the writing on the wall.
And judging from the initial response of gullible and sympathetic U.N. members - basically that Iraq is doing the world a favor and, gee, it looks like our problems are over - Saddam has done it again. The Arab League, in particular, has (not surprisingly) chosen to swallow Saddam's obvious ploy hook, line and sinker.
Saddam may indeed be ready to allow inspectors unfettered and unconditional access. He may choose not to expel them the moment they trip over some clue that he is harboring chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. This may somehow be a new era in relations between Iraq and the civilized world.
Then again, U.N. inspectors just might find the Great Pumpkin if they poke around in a really sincere pumpkin patch.
Let's not fool ourselves, or let Saddam fool the world. This latest cynical maneuver is nothing new. This is Saddam. And that means trouble.
Credit President George W. Bush for smoking out Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bush's forceful and courageous speech to a skeptical U.N. last week seemed to move that oddly intransigent entity into near-action - no doubt forcing the Iraqi leader's hand.
But more than a decade of sleight-of-hand tricks later, the world should be smarter than to believe that Saddam has any intention of cooperating now.
The only difference is that now the stakes are higher than ever. Each day that passes is another closer to the day that the world's most dangerous sociopath wields a nuclear weapon.
After seeing its resolutions flouted for more than a decade, the United Nations must not allow Saddam Hussein the luxury of one extra day simply because he now says he is willing to give an inch. If the world body is susceptible to being suckered again, you can at least count on the Bush administration, thankfully, to hold Saddam's feet to the fire.
Someone certainly needs to. Even with his announced willingness to let inspectors in, Saddam is bound to delay, distract and obfuscate. He's not trying to cooperate; he's trying to buy time.
Saddam's open attempt to outflank the opposition should not be allowed to win him one additional hour to pursue weapons of mass destruction. The world community needs to set a tight deadline for his full compliance and stick by it.
In the meantime, savvy observers will expect the worst. Saddam has rarely failed to deliver that.
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