For two years before the American invasion of Iraq, Mr. Hussein's sons, generals and front companies were engaged in lengthy negotiations with North Korea, according to computer files discovered by international inspectors and the accounts of Bush administration officials.
The officials now say they believe that those negotiations — mostly conducted in neighboring Syria, apparently with the knowledge of the Syrian government — were not merely to buy a few North Korean missiles. Instead, the goal was to obtain a full production line to manufacture, under an Iraqi flag, the North Korean missile system, which would be capable of hitting American allies and bases around the region, according to the Bush administration officials.
So much for Saddam not being a threat to America and its interests! And would we have found out about this without first capturing Baghdad, Iraq's military and intelligence officials, and its records?
Investigators said information downloaded from Iraqi computer hard drives, at least one of which was obtained before the invasion of Iraq, allowed them to more specifically interrogate detained members of Mr. Hussein's inner circle. They, in turn, guided investigators deeper into the mountain of official documents seized during the war.
"You do that, sort of a back-and-forth process," said one American official. "You find something on a computer disk or in the pile of documents slowly being translated. That makes you ask questions of the detainees. Then you bounce back to the documents and so forth. That's how you get the bigger picture."
In other words, no. We would likely have remained in the dark regarding Saddam's efforts to produce (not just purchase) missile technology that clearly violated UN resolutions and the terms of the 1991 cease-fire. Not that we need any further justification for our actions -- if the mass graves and the reneging of 16 UNSC resolutions doesn't convince you, nothing will -- but this is indicative of the type of information that will be coming to light now that we have removed the Ba'athists from power. We'll also see how much of this gets covered by the national news media, although it's certainly encouraging to see this in the New York Times.
Note also that Syria played the role of broker in this illegal arms deal, putting themselves in the middleman role while voting on Security Council resolutions that denied this technology to Iraq:
It also establishes that Syria was a major arms-trading bazaar for the Hussein government, in this case hiding an Iraqi effort to obtain missiles, they say. Investigators say Syria had probably offered its ports and territory as the surreptitious transit route for the North Korea-Iraq missile deal, although it remains unclear what demands the government in Damascus might have made in return. Further, according to United States government officials and international investigators, the Iraqi official who brokered the deal, Munir Awad, is now in Syria, apparently living under government protection.
If it served as a middleman in this deal, as the documents suggest, Syria was acting in violation of Security Council resolutions even as it served on the Council and voted with the United States on the most important resolution before the war.
This points up the absolute folly of demanding UN or UNSC approval for any actions taken in defense of American security. If the UN were a collection of liberal democracies, we would have no problem in negotiating issues in good faith (in fact, we would likely have no problems requiring the use of force anyway). As it is, the UN mostly consists of dictators and kleptocracies, most of whom are not friendly to the US or the West in particular or towards democracy and human rights in general. Any politician who demands UN approval for our foreign policy is effectively placing our security into the hands of people most likely to violate it in the first place.
UPDATE: Power Line looks at this story a bit more critically than I did at first; while I applaud the Times for publishing the story, I would have to agree with Hindrocket that the article tends to paint the Bush administration poorly:
Of course, the Times being the Times, it can't just admit that the attempted missile deal demonstrates that Saddam was a danger to the region, as the administration has consistently said. Rather than saying, "the administration has been proved right," the Times says: "Bush administration officials have seized on the attempted purchase of the missiles, known as the Rodong, and a missile assembly line to buttress their case that Mr. Hussein was violating United Nations resolutions, which clearly prohibited missiles of the range of the Rodong."
I guess the Times just can't stop being the Times, even when it gets something right.