Bush's Worst-Case Scenario
By William Raspberry
Saturday, September 14, 2002; Page A21
President Bush, playing prosecutor before the "court" of the United Nations, did a splendid job of proving the defendant a murderous, lying and unremorseful slimeball. But he made no headway in proving what badly needs proving: that the slimeball did the particular crime with which he is now charged -- and for which the prosecutor is demanding the death penalty.
The Bush administration has been at great pains to make the case that Saddam Hussein is such a threat to the security of the United States as to warrant a unilateral U.S. assault with the implied intention of killing him.
But the evidence presented this week consisted almost entirely of the Iraqi dictator's offenses against his own citizens, his neighbors and the United Nations. In addition to the oft-repeated (and, so far as I know, uncontested) allegations that Hussein used chemical weapons against Iran and against Iraq's Kurds, Bush made a detailed case that Hussein repeatedly defied, ignored, violated and otherwise disrespected U.N. resolutions and directives -- a "decade of deception and defiance," he called it.
But surely the United Nations knew that already -- and knows that it has the power to invoke military means to enforce its directives. It may be a shame that it has not done so, and the Bush speech may be useful in that regard.
What the speech did not offer, though, is any evidence that Hussein is amassing weapons of mass destruction for use against the United States. That, as far as I can understand it, is the charge on which the American-executed death penalty would be based. Without that evidence, the rationale seems to go something like this: Saddam Hussein has "dissed" the United Nations and menaced his neighbors, and if the United Nations is too chicken to do anything about it, then America will.
But surely the administration's warmongering hasn't been on behalf of the United Nations (although Bush did take the occasion of his speech to announce America's return to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which it left in 1984). No, we have been led to believe that Hussein is such an imminent threat to us that we dare not wait much longer to take him out. And always the explanation is made in the context of terrorism -- suggesting, though not quite saying, that Iraq is behind the savagery we now know as 9/11. If it were true -- and neither Bush nor anyone else has offered the slimmest reed of evidence that it is -- then I wouldn't be cautioning against an all-out attack on Hussein. Nations, after all, have a duty to protect themselves.
But the best Bush could do the other day was to note that an unchecked Saddam Hussein could destabilize the region, which would be bad for us; that Iraq could be stockpiling weapons of mass destruction -- perhaps even getting nearer to producing atomic weapons; and that Iraqis were suspected in a 1993 attempt to "assassinate the emir of Kuwait and a former American president" -- the current president's father.
The Clinton administration responded to that attempt, which took place during a visit by the senior Bush to Kuwait, by firing 23 Tomahawk missiles at the headquarters of Iraqi intelligence.
What else is there? According to our president, this: "Iraq's government openly praised the attacks of September 11. And al Qaeda terrorists escaped from Afghanistan are known to be in Iraq."
By my lights, the prosecutor's failure to make a convincing case is complete. The case fails diplomatically, because unilateral action of the sort envisioned would weaken the relevant international institutions and complicate our role in the world. It fails militarily -- not because we couldn't stomp Hussein's pitiful army but because we don't seem to have thought through the consequences of "victory," including the likelihood that it wouldn't stop terrorism and that we would be stuck with running Iraq for years to come.
And it fails morally. War is sometimes necessary. But it needs a firmer basis than that the slimeball was happy about 9/11 and I'm still sore about Poppy.