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Missing Evidence 

Poking holes in the case for war

Thursday, Jan 30 2003

As convoys of TV trucks descended Monday on the United Nations in New York to witness the report of the Iraq inspection team, it was clear that most of the media have adopted the White House way of seeing events: as a series of ultimatums and triggers to start war on Baghdad. The inspectors themselves had promised no such event, nor had the U.N. Security Council. It was the hawks in Washington who had whipped up the press, yet again, to build the war fever with a roll of drums and the sound of administration-leaked punditry dripping away at common sense.

After a year of total immersion in American TV, it’s difficult to remember that as the New Year of 2002 dawned, Iraq and Saddam Hussein were not in the headlines. They weren‘t even on the horizon. Still reeling from the shock of September 11, the world had united behind the United States as it fought the forces of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Then President George W. Bush stood up and used a speechwriter’s catch phrase -- “the Axis of Evil” -- in his State of the Union address on January 27, 2002. He lumped together Iraq and Iran, two bitter enemies, and North Korea, which did not have much to do with anyone else, but at least was still avowedly communist and so had to substitute for the former Evil Empire (RIP). The world laughed at his geopolitical naivete. As it faces a war that could destabilize the region, and whose threat is already rocking the wobbly world economy, no one is laughing anymore.

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Iraq did not change on January 27. It was every bit as evil before as it was after the president‘s road-to-Baghdad revelation and conversion. Since then, however, Bush has successfully made a previous back-burner issue the one with the fat in the fire, regardless of the near unanimous opinion of the rest of the world that, while Iraq may be “a” problem, it is just one of several.

In fact, the Bush administration has reversed von Clausewitz’s dictum about war being diplomacy continued by other means. For the last year, the U.S. has regarded diplomacy as war in waiting. Luckily for the world, the White House‘s diplomacy has been as inept as its approach to winning the hearts and minds of the world’s public.

It has not helped the White House‘s crusade against Iraq that its stated reasons keep changing. About the only one that has stayed consistent is Bush’s claim that Saddam Hussein “tried to kill my dad.”

Not only do the war aims change weekly, but almost every other stated reason fails the test of American practice. Defiance of U.N. resolutions? All year the administration has either vetoed resolutions about Israeli practices in the Occupied Territories or ensured that they were not implemented.

Was it about Saddam Hussein‘s tyrannical and bloodthirsty rule at home? If the president is so concerned, where were the tears for the Chechens, the Western Saharans, the Tibetans and the other contemporary victims listed in the State Department’s own human-rights reports?

Was it about threats to other countries? But none of Iraq‘s neighbors felt in the slightest bit threatened by Iraq, with its crumbling economy, obsolete conventional weaponry and inspected-into-the-sand-dunes weapons of mass destruction. Even Israel did not really feel threatened. Ariel Sharon is just a person who harbors monstrous and long-lasting grudges, as he demonstrated at Sabra and Shatila.

Is it about democratization? Then why is the administration publicly discussing a Ba’athist regime without Saddam as an option. And what to do about Syria, or Saudi Arabia?

Was it about the oil? Well, the U.S. has been buying oil from Iraq to make up for the shortfall from Venezuela and, if the war breaks out, risks losing not only that but the Saudi and Gulf oil, either through military action or fundamentalist insurrection if their regimes help the U.S.

So it must be about disarmament and control of weapons of mass destruction, then? Well, perhaps that would be a little more convincing if the administration were not considering the use of nuclear weapons against Iraq. Most damningly, Richard Butler, the former head of the U.N. inspection teams, and much reviled by Saddam and his supporters for being a tool of Washington, said this week that the U.S. was displaying a “shocking double standard.”

Butler needs no convincing that Iraq possesses forbidden weapons and is cheating, but he points out, “The spectacle of the U.S., armed with its weapons of mass destruction, acting without Security Council authority to invade a country in the heartland of Arabia and, if necessary, use its weapons to win that battle, is something that would so deeply violate any notion of fairness in this world that I strongly suspect it would set loose forces we would deeply live to regret.”

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