Security Council resolutions notwithstanding, the cost of taking military action would still outweigh any benefit for Washington. “There was very little international support for a military strike,” says Dowell. “Iraq was not an immediate threat and it was difficult to see why we would be bombing people because of an abstract future threat.”
Kofi Annan’s deal rescued the U.S. from a difficult situation, Dowell believes. “He won us some breathing space in which to reassess what we want to do.” With even the policy of "containment" of Saddam via sanctions being increasingly called into question, the State Department's Iraq wonks face some heavy lifting in the weeks ahead.