Let us be clear about who was the primary audience for Powell’s presentation. It was not the U.N. Security Council, which has historically suffered the indignity of having its resolutions flouted before (and not just by Iraq). It was not the U.S. Congress, which has abdicated its responsibility to provide a check upon a reckless executive branch. It was not the American public, which has been successfully propagandized into displacing its fear and outrage over 9/11 into fueling George Dubious’s Iraq obsession. It was, of all parties, the French government.
As is becoming a bit of tired political theatre, the French Foreign Ministry has decided that all expressions of American foreign policy must be met with token cavils, regardless of the merits of the case. In the case of Iraq, France has hewed to a (overly) legalistic interpretation of UNR 1441, affording them plenty of opportunities to complain that the U.S. is (surprise!) less than scrupulous about fulfilling each and every obligation in accusing Iraq of being in "material breach." In the end, however, France (and the U.N. Security Council) will likely conclude that they can’t afford the humiliation of having failed to sanction what they know to be an inevitable exercise of American military fiat.
In what must be the result of herculean efforts by career foreign service officers (who suffer from the occupational hazard of foresight), Secretary Powell agreed to jump through the hoops and lay out, not a "case for war," but a finding that best satisfied the French demands for evidence without compromising our intelligence sources (which have been oh so helpful in the past). In giving the French this fig leaf, the U.S. Department of State is doing what it can to preserve the U.N. and NATO, towards which the rest of the Bush Administration is not yet antagonistic but merely contemptuous.