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The following commentary was published in the Roanoke Times as "Neither Bush nor Powell has made the case for war," on February 19, 2003 and in The New River Free Press as "No Case for Preemptive War," in the Feb/March 2003 issue.

Bombed if They Do, Bombed if They Don't

Like many Americans and people the world over, I have been following the news on the Iraq conflict closely and have many concerns and questions about it. The fact that so many conservative voices in recent months have come out publicly to voice their own concerns have only added to my questions and skepticism.

Henry Kissinger has said, "The notion of justified pre-emption runs counter to modern international law, which sanctions the use of force in self-defense only against actual - not potential - threats." Norman Schwarzkopf is worried about the cockiness of the war plan. Richard Butler, conservative Australian diplomat who led previous UN inspection teams in Iraq, has said that the United States lacks credibility because of Washington's failure to deal with others on the same terms. General Anthony Zinni, a Bush mediator in the Middle East, has said that Iraq is 6th or 7th on a list of dangers we face.

With that in mind, I listened intently to President Bush's Address to the Nation and then to Secretary of State Colin Powell's UN presentation to see if they planned to take seriously what the UN inspectors had said the day before President Bush's speech… "Our work is steadily progressing and should be allowed to run its natural course..." And if not, would either of them at least finally make the case - how is Iraq an immediate threat to the U.S.?

After hearing President Bush's speech, I wondered if he ever intended to take into account the weapons inspectors' reports, as he had said he would. The fact that he slated his speech for the very next day made me wonder if he even had time to consider it. The fact that he mentioned the infamous "aluminum tubes," as evidence that Iraq was trying to restart a nuclear weapons program, after the Atomic Energy Agency report just stated they were the wrong kind of tubes for producing nuclear weapons, and the head nuclear inspector reported that they had "found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear program since its elimination in the 1990s," made me wonder if he listened at all. (It's also important to note that U.N. chief arms inspector Hans Blix challenged several of the accusations Bush made against Iraq.)

Why did President Bush spend so much time on a litany of Saddam's horrors (many which were committed while we supported and armed him) while never mentioning Bin Laden? I had hoped he would explain what justifies a war with Iraq but diplomacy with North Korea when there is no evidence that Iraq has successfully developed nuclear weapons while North Korea is known to posses them? It's hard not to conclude from this double standard that we will make war on Iraq because they can barely defend themselves, which is counter to Bush's assertion that they are an immediate threat, and we will not confront Korea because it is too dangerous. (It's no wonder small nations want nuclear weapons.)

And for President Bush to equate continued containment, air occupation, sanctions, and inspections as "trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam," as he did in his speech, only underscores the gap between his rhetoric and reality, only indicates how narrowly Bush views things, in black and white as opposed to all shades of the truth.

I had hoped President Bush's Address to the Nation would have some substance and diplomacy to it and not be just another pep rally inciting fear and revenge. But it only re-enforced my suspicion that the UN route the administration has taken may be largely window dressing for the plan they have had all along: a unilateral pre-emptive strike to establish a regime change in Iraq and a U.S. military presence on top of the world's second largest oil reserve.

It is widely believed that it was Colin Powell who urged the Bush Administration to go the UN route, knowing that the above plan needed some legitimacy, or the look of legitimacy, to gain any acceptance. And yet it is not being accepted by the majority of the world. Why does the Bush Administration have to work so hard to convince Americans and the world that this war is necessary? The need for war should be overwhelming before it is undertaken, and it should not be undertaken by "a coalition of the willing to make a deal," as Mark Shields put it on the PBS News Hour.

I listened to Colin Powell's U.N. presentation, a week after President Bush's speech, to see if he would make the case that President Bush didn't. While I appreciate Powell's non-histrionic manner as opposed to Bush's bellicose one, I couldn't help but perceive a "good cop, bad cop" strategy to break down the U.N.'s resolve. The material Powell presented should have been the start of the debate over what to do with Iraq, and not the beginning of the endgame, a game that the U.S. has dictated the rules to, rules that seem to say "Iraq will be bombed if they have weapons of mass destruction and bombed if they don't."

While Powell's presentation on its surface at times seemed compelling, it contained not so much facts as scenarios, not so much proof as interpretation, information from unnamed sources, and repetition of what Bush had already said.

When it was over I still asked myself, "But is the threat imminent? Is it an actual threat or a potential one?" I agree with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov who said about Powell's report, "The information given to us today will require very serious and thorough study." Recently someone took a closer look and found the British dossier that Powell cited to support his claim of Iraqi links to terrorism - a report that was represented as an up-to- date assessment by British Intelligence - was in part lifted from magazine articles about Iraq from the early '90s. "Obsolete…" "Plagiarized…" and with "apparently changed phrases from the original text to make the case against Iraq seem more extreme," the New York Times reported.

I am surprised that both Bush and Powell try so hard to make an Iraq and Al Qaida link when world intelligences, including our own, have said there is no link. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. To insist there is a link between Iraq and Al Qaida is a little like saying a person has ties to the KKK just because they are white and from the South, and it shows our lack of understanding about the Middle East if we buy into a notion like that.

Lee Hamilton, a longtime senior member of the House Intelligence Committee who now serves on the 9/11 Commission, has said that the Bush Administration "will look for any kind of evidence to support their premise; I think we have to be skeptical about it." And Doug Thompson in the Capital Hill Blue reported this on January 22nd: "Sources say the White House has ordered the FBI and CIA to "find and document" links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. "The implication is clear," grumbles one longtime FBI agent. "Find a link, any link, no matter how vague or unproven, and then use that link to justify action against Iraq."

Why do so many Americans who instinctively mistrust many politicians suddenly fall in line obediently when one becomes president? Why are we about to let the Bush Administration become the sole judge, jury and executioner of Iraq when so many innocent lives are at stake? It seems that the United States is forcing the United Nations into a corner just as it is doing to Iraq. "Take military action or become irrelevant," is the ultimatum I am hearing, but in truth, if the U.N. caves into U.S. pressure then it really will be irrelevant.

The fact that Bush has called U.N. inspectors "so-called inspectors" shows how perfunctory inspections are to him, even though it has been reported that the last inspection team destroyed 95% of Iraq's biological and chemical weapons and their entire nuclear weapons program.

After the first Gulf War, Dick Cheney explained why the U.S. did not continue to go after Saddam - high U.S. causalities, the danger of fighting in cities, the long term chaos that would follow. What has changed since then? Will a war in Iraq make us safer? Will it feed into a continuing suspicion of U.S. motives and fan even more hatred and terrorism? Why is the Bush Administration alienating so many of our long time allies, allies we will need to face more immediate dangers, such as al Qaida? Why stop the inspections when they are just gaining momentum? Iraq poses no immediate threat particularly when inspectors are there.

I believe - as Retired Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan put it so well in a recent full page Washington Post ad organized by Republicans and business leaders - that "Iraq represents no threat today to national security that warrants a pre-emptive strike." The Bush Administration's recent attempt to make the case has not convinced me otherwise.

Colleen Redman- Feb. 8, 2003

To read more political commentaries by Colleen Redman, visit the following links:

Colleen on Politics Main Page
Want Good News: Vote Bush Out
Voting Machine Voodoo

Made for TV Presidency
Rediscovering Patriotism
The Liberation of Iraq
Independent Investivation into Iraq War: Bring it On
Bombed if They Do, Bombed if They Don't

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