The Wrong Man for the Wrong War at the Wrong Time
Tonight, President Bush made a televised address outlining the rationale for starting a full-scale war on Iraq. Anyone worried about any deviation from form can relax. In his address, Bush fell back upon his old mainstays of cant, obfuscation, and lies.
The bright spot in the speech came when Bush correctly noted that Iraq has obligations under United Nations Resolutions 678 and 687 to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction. But the United States makes a poor argument that these resolutions serve as justification for an imminent attack on Iraq. The United States is hardly the sole interpreter or arbiter for the Security Council. Of the fourteen other members of the Security Council, Bush could count on only three other votes for immediate war, from Britain, Bulgaria, and Spain. The other eleven countries take Resolutions 678 and 687 very seriously, seriously enough to try to find actual evidence of actual weapons of mass destruction, before they consider any attack to be justified.
Most of the rest of the speech echoed the same sort of half-truths and outright falsehoods that have been the norm for this administration, especially since the 11 September 2001 attacks by al-Qaeda terrorists. Indeed, key members of the Bush administration have been spoiling for war with Iraq since 1998, when the Bush presidency was just a gleam in Karl Rove's eye.
The Iraqi regime has "a deep hatred of America and our friends." Saddam Hussein is hardly alone in thinking that way. Perhaps someone from the State Department could remind the President of the bon mots issued by the government of a little country called "North Korea." The leaders of a number of other countries consider most Americans to be heathens and infidels. Invading Iran or Saudi Arabia next would be consistent, but hardly pragmatic or even sane.
Saddam Hussein "has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda." The United States government has tried variations on this theme for a year and a half, and no link between Iraq and al-Qaeda has had even a scintilla of actual evidence. Just because they share an enemy does not mean that they share anything else. Iraq has followed the lead of Saudi Arabia and other countries in rewarding Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel and its occupied territories. Doing so is certainly wrong, but certainly far from unique.
Iraq could supply terrorists with "chemical, biological, or, one day, nuclear weapons." Of all of the arguments for war, this is the most ludicrous. The Bush administration is so worried about nuclear proliferation that it has punished the two most recent nuclear weapons states—by renewing military ties with the two countries. Even after the United States found that Pakistan was trading nuclear weapons technology to North Korea in exchange for missile technology, the United States kept mum. The Bush administration is so worried about nuclear weapons in the Middle East that it refuses to call Israel a nuclear weapons state. The United States is so worried about nuclear material falling in the wrong hands that it refuses to speed up the purchase of fissile material from Russia under the Nunn-Lugar Act.
The worries about Iraq supplying weapons to terrorists miss a point of much importance. Saddam Hussein has had two decades to supply terrorists with chemical or biological weapons, and has not done so. We must worry about Iraq's nuclear ambitions, but we must worry more about what is most likely. If al-Qaeda were to get material for nuclear weapons, it would go to its ideological allies in Pakistan or to where the largest stock of nuclear materials are available, in Russia. Deciding that Iraq, which has neither nuclear material nor common ideology, is the likely supplier for al-Qaeda makes little sense.
"The Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." Calling this garbage is an insult to rubbish everywhere. Nuclear weapons are the most lethal weapons ever devised. The United States has been unable to show that Iraq has these weapons, or is even close to having them. When the Bush administration made its evidence on Iraqi nuclear ambitions public, its key document, regarding uranium shipments from Niger, turned out to be a crude forgery.
Iraq may want nuclear weapons, but wanting them is hardly criminal. Even if Iraq had these weapons, using them as a pretext for war is hypocritical in the extreme. Not only does the United States have them, but so do a host of our allies—Russia, Britain, France, Israel, India, and Pakistan. And when one of the most reprehensible regimes on earth, the National Party of South Africa, built nuclear weapons in the early 1990s, the United States used diplomacy, not the threat of war, to get it to disarm.
It is hard to claim that Iraq currently poses the greatest threat to the United States, let alone the greatest threat to peace. The opposition to the United States in the Security Council to war is indicative of worldwide opinion. The United States can rely only on the United Kingdom, Australia, and the European junior varsity for full-fledged support. For most of the world, war on Iraq is the wrong war to fight.
The Bush administration knows that it can rally most of the American public behind war, because most Americans remember Saddam Hussein as the aggressor in the 1990 Gulf War. In 1990, the Security Council approved of American military actions against Iraq, because Iraq had violated all sorts of international laws in its invasion and attempted annexation of Kuwait. In 2003, the Security Council was not going to approve of American military action, because Iraq had done nothing remotely commensurate with its previous actions.
The rest of the world remembers that the United States and Iraq were allies of convenience in the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq War. It remembers that the Reagan administration sent materials to Iraq that bolstered its chemical and biological warfare capabilities. The rest of the world knows that intrusive inspections of Iraqi bases, laboratories, and government offices have found nothing to justify deposing a government. For most of the world, war can and should wait.