The speech surprised and upset the mission of U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering at the U.N. He had steered through the Security Council the war-ending resolution, a document so long that ambassadors, borrowing a favorite phrase of [Saddam Hussein]'s, dubbed it "the mother of all resolutions." The resolution contained no demand that Iraq rid itself of Hussein. Instead, its key provisions set up a system of U.N. inspections, demanded the elimination of all Iraqi WMD and pledged to keep sanctions in place until inspectors verified this outcome. Sanctions prohibited any country from buying Iraqi oil and other products; Iraq could purchase only medicine and food abroad.
[Madeleine Albright]'s speech should not have been a surprise. It repeated a policy she had spelled out when she was U.N. ambassador earlier in the [Clinton] administration. Her reference to "all the Security Council resolutions" recalled that the U.N., aside from ordering the elimination of WMD, had demanded that Iraq accept an Iraq-Kuwait boundary worked out by a demarcation commission, account for all missing Kuwaitis and pay compensation to all nations and individuals financially hurt by the war. By linking the lifting of sanctions to all these resolutions, the Clinton administration was placing what it hoped was an impossible burden on Hussein, or at least one that he would regard as intolerable. In her recently published memoirs, Albright described the policy as only "a slightly different approach" from that of the first [George W. Bush] administration.
The new issue was war. By the time U.N. inspectors returned in late 2002, the Iraqis, fearful of a U.S. invasion, cooperated more than they ever had. Resolution 1441 -- the Security Council resolution that served as President Bush's legal justification for war -- did not even mention sanctions. Instead, it declared Iraq "in material breach" of previous U.N. resolutions and threatened "serious consequences" if Iraq continued to defy the U.N. Their new cooperation did not help the Iraqis. Many Bush aides looked on U.N. inspections with contempt -- a feeble exercise by incompetent inspectors fooled time and again by duplicitous Iraqis. Without waiting for the inspectors to finish their work, Bush ordered the invasion.