|What Course Should President Bush Take Regarding Iraq?
In his second State of the Union address, recently given to a joint session of Congress and top government officials, President George W. Bush reiterated his determination to end the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Citing "evidence" that the Iraqi leader has been hoodwinking the United Nations inspectors, moving chemical agents and prohibited hardware to new locations as the investigators examined the old ones, he hinted that Saddams downfall was imminent and that, if necessary, the U.S. would march into Baghdad alone. Bush also accused Hussein of harboring terrorists, specifically members of the Al Qaeda network, thereby drawing a connection to the nations on-going "war against terrorism." His critics complained that the Presidents remarks, while rich in rhetoric, fell far below the evidentiary poverty line.
One skeptic is Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Minority Leader and one of a growing number of Democrats who are leery of the Presidents seeming rush to war. Before the Presidents speech he told a reporter, "If we have proof of nuclear and biological weapons, why don't we show that proof to the world, as President Kennedy did 40 years ago when he sent Adlai Stevenson to the United Nations to show the world U.S. photographs of offensive missiles in Cuba?" On the morning after the speech, he told a national television audience that the President had failed to make his case for unilateral action against Iraq but that he hoped that the Administration would finally release what it knows to a skeptical world.
The White House is brushing off dissenters, promising that hard facts will be revealed on February 5th, when Secretary of State Colin Powell spreads out on the U.N. Security Councils table a portfolio of "incontrovertible evidence." Security Council permanent members France, China and Russia will be a tough sell and the month of Februarys temporary chairman, Germany, indicated that no evidence will persuade that government to approve military action against Iraq at this time. They and other Europeans are convinced that the inspection system is working well and will eventually put sufficient pressure on the Iraqi regime to give up their alleged weapons of mass destruction and destroy them in the presence of inspectors.
It was in his first State of the Union message that President Bush identified Iraq as being in an "axis of evil," meaning a nation spreading terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction. In the intervening year, his administration began organizing support for pre-emptive action against that country and its leader. It extracted a resolution from Congress that gave him the authority to move against Iraq should it become necessary. It then joined Great Britain in moving a resolution through the Security Council demanding that Iraq identify any remaining chemical or nuclear stockpiles and re-instituting the inspection program that Iraq terminated in 1998. Finally, the administration began drawing up options for military action against Saddam and placing air, ground and naval units into strategic positions in the Middle East.
Most of the naval training on the island of Vieques over the past year has been to ready aircraft carrier battle groups headed for the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, bodies of water adjacent to Iraq. The week before the Presidential speech, another two units of the Puerto Rico National Guard were activated, sending some 200 more islanders into the war against terrorism, bringing the total number of Puerto Ricans called up since 9/11 to over 1,500. Nationwide the number of National Guardsmen and Reservists called up approaches 35,000. Many are already deployed to locations in the Middle East, poised for orders from their Commander-in-Chief.
On the day before the Presidential speech, Hans Blix, the Chief United Nations weapons inspector, provided the Security Council with a 15-page report on Iraqi compliance during the first two months of inspections. He concluded that, even though his inspectors were allowed access to various sites, Iraq had not yet come to a "genuine acceptance of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and live in peace." While the Bush administration found the Blix report a justification for its message of urgency, those wishing to give Iraq more time to comply saw it as predictable for a process only in the early stages.
One explanation for Bushs taught trigger finger is the climate of Iraq. The desert sands begin to simmer in April, making ground operations more difficult. This is especially true if troops are required to wear heavy clothing protecting them from chemical and biological attacks that military planners say is a possibility. The rationale for those favoring a more prudent and protracted course of action is that, whatever weapons Saddam may have, he will not be in a position to use them, so long as a rigorous inspection protocol is in place in Iraq.
This week the Herald asks readers to join the debate.
Is it War or Wait?