by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
February 8, 2003
SELLING A WAR THAT FEW ARE BUYING
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Did Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 5 convince you that Saddam Hussein poses such a grave threat to world peace that we must go to war with him as soon as possible?
It depends on whether you believe that Powell's compendium of anonymous sources, grainy satellite photos, alleged telephone conversions between Iraqi military officers and warmed-over accusations constitutes proof that Saddam Hussein is in "material breach" of UN Security Council Resolution 1441.
In the face of Powell's report, it is well to remember this maxim from the late, great independent journalist I.F. Stone: "Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed."
Taking Stone's words to heart, let's take a look at the main points of Powell's report.
Weapons of Mass Destruction: In the detailed outline of Iraq's weaponry, a few things were conspicuously absent. Between the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, the subsequent periodic bombing over the past 12 years by U.S. and British warplanes, seven years of inspections by the UN and a stringent economic embargo that's been in place for over a decade, Iraq is functionally disarmed.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iraq does not have a nuclear program or nuclear weapons and is years away from producing a nuclear weapon under the best of circumstances.
As for Iraq's chemical and biological weapons stocks, most have been destroyed and anything it may still have isn't in a deployable state. Saddam Hussein has been on a very tight leash since Gulf War I. The Iraqi military is a fifth of the size it was in 1991 and Iraq has not been able to threaten its neighbors in the Middle East, let alone the United States.
Links to al-Qaeda: Powell's claimed "decades" of Iraqi contact with al-Qaeda. The reality is al-Qaeda has been in existence for only about five years and its avowed goal is to overthrow any secular or non-Islamic fundamentalist government in the Arab world. Saddam's Baathist regime falls into this category. There remains no concrete evidence of any high-level contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda and we know that Osama bin Laden has never been a fan of Saddam.
Remember that none of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi, that there are no Iraqis in al-Qaeda's leadership and that most of the money and personnel to carry out the Sept. 11 attacks came from Saudi Arabia, not Iraq.
Evasiveness by Saddam: This was perhaps the meatiest part of Powell's presentation. It's been clear over the past decade that Saddam has not been totally cooperative in the UN's efforts to disarm him. But Powell didn't bother to lay out the documentation of U.S. assistance in Iraq's production and use of chemical weapons in the 1980s.
The current round of inspections that were prompted by Resolution 1441 have gone fairly well, enough so that evasiveness alone is not enough to meet 1441's definition of material breach. The UN Charter only authorizes the use of military force to maintain global peace and security. Using the same logic, the U.S. would be bombing Israel, Turkey and Indonesia - to name three U.S. allies that have failed to abide by UN Security Council resolutions.
In short, Powell didn't present enough of a case to replace the UN inspectors with U.S. missiles and bombs. But in the end, this point doesn't matter because President Bush is determined to invade Iraq, with or without UN approval.
There are more than 200,000 members of the U.S. military that are either in the Persian Gulf or on their way there. The U.S. has undermined the work of the UN inspectors every step of the way. And the Bush administration has been busily twisting the arms of its allies to get them to go along with a war that most of the people on this planet oppose.
Weigh the potential for very, very bad things to happen - such as the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and the near-certainty that those deaths will inspire retaliatory terrorist attacks on U.S. soil - against the flimsy pretexts for war that the Bush administration has presented over the past year. Does it provide an answer to the question posed at the beginning of this column?
Neither logic nor morality nor the voices of protest from around the globe have been able to slow down the preparations for Gulf War II. This war doesn't have to happen, but it now looks almost inevitable.
This is a tragedy of the highest order.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).