I'm like a lot of Americans who have been watching the drama unfold involving Iraq and the United States. I want to believe the latest agreement will work. I don't want any kind of war. But I can't help struggling with a heavy load of cynicism when it comes to Saddam Hussein.

The fact I have a young unmarried son adds a bit of uneasiness to the cynicism. War with Iraq would probably not involve a young man who is not already in the military, but I grew up during the Vietnam War era, with the draft and the draft lottery hanging like a sword over all our heads. There are no guarantees.I'm not a political analyst; like most other Americans, all I know about what's happening is what I read in the newspaper. But it seems to me that launching missiles and dropping bombs should be a last resort. War means people die - our people and theirs.

But we're not dealing with anyone rational. There is no way to feel good about negotiations with someone who spends his country's resources on building weapons of war. And not ordinary weapons. Saddam favors the most gruesome, insidious, horrible weapons of all - germs and chemicals. He has accumulated storehouses of these weapons after much research and over a long period of time.

I can't believe he's going to get rid of what he is most proud of having created.

If Saddam does allow U.N. inspectors into the country, how can we be certain those inspectors aren't seeing only what Saddam wants them to see? The fact he has refused inspections right to the brink of war seems a fair indication he has something to hide.

The fact is we know what he's hiding and, unless our intelligence people have been napping, we have a pretty good idea where his secrets are. But where will they be tomorrow? Vials of anthrax germs aren't similar to tanks and missile launchers. They can be moved silently and quickly; they can be hidden; they can be scattered.

We have missiles that are designed to destroy biological and chemical weapons. Using those missiles now, before Saddam moves his weapons storehouses and while he feels confident we'll honor the latest agreement, makes sense even to a novice like me. We know he doesn't play by the rules; if we do, we lose.

I applaud U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's efforts to prevent a deadly military confrontation with Iraq. He's doing his job and doing it well. But, as we used to say when I was a kid: You can only trust a promise if you can trust the guy who made it.

Evil people only make promises to further their own interests; they only keep the promises if breaking them hurts worse than keeping them.

Saddam is now saying he will permit inspections of all the sites where we suspect he's hiding biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. If inspectors find weapons and order them destroyed or find nothing, will that be the end of the story? Will the United Nations and the United States accept Saddam's promise?

If my son were serving in the military and war with Iraq were averted, I would celebrate for his sake. But the relief would be tempered with doubt. Would it be a short-sighted victory? Could something much worse be ahead? We can win an outright battle with Saddam, but how can we beat him in a war of wills if we allow him to get ahead by trusting a man who can't be trusted?

Saddam is claiming the agreement is a victory for him and for Iraq. He's telling his people that once he allows the inspections and his enemies are satisfied that he's destroyed his weapons storehouses, the sanctions against his country will be lifted and he and the Iraqis will go back to life as before.

I'm frightened because that promise is one Saddam will keep.