Bush Draft Resolution Rings False

Whereas we just want to kick Saddam's butt.

The draft resolution George W. Bush sent to Congress on September 19 might as well have said that, for much of the reasoning underlying the resolution -- the whereases -- seemed to be cover for an over-eagerness to go to war.

As the White House crafted it, the resolution would authorize Bush "to use all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the United Nations Security Council resolutions [compelling Iraq to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction programs], defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq, and restore international peace and security in the region."

That last item is a tall order, and there's too much room on this blank check. In essence, Congress would be ceding its constitutional power to declare war to the President, who would be free to employ the US military to enforce UN resolutions even if the UN Security Council concludes the use of force is not yet warranted or wise (talk about being more Catholic than the Pope). Congress would also allow Bush to define the threat from Iraq any which way he chooses.

On the latter point, the resolution itself proves Bush cannot be trusted to do so responsibly. Let's examine key whereases. One states, "Whereas the current Iraqi regime has demonstrated its continuing hostility toward, and willingness to attack, the United States, including by attempting in 1993 to assassinate former President Bush and by firing on many thousands of occasions on United States and Coalition Armed Forces engaged in enforcing" the no-fly zones in Iraq.

The plot to kill Daddy Bush and the Iraqi military's attempts (serious but futile) to shoot down US warplanes deserve condemnation. But it is a misleading stretch to equate those hostile actions with a "willingness to attack" the United States directly today or in the immediate future.

Another clause notes, "Whereas members of al-Qaida, an organization bearing responsibility for attacks on the United States, its citizens, its interests, including the attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, are known to be in Iraq." Could the White House be more vague?

Al Qaeda members are also known to be in 60 different countries. That's what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said. And that group includes the United States. Should we bomb Pakistan or Lackawanna, New York? Sarcasm aside, the presence of an unstated number of al Qaeda members in Iraq means nothing. Are these fiends hanging out with the Islamic fundamentalists active in the Kurdish areas of the north? Or are they scheming with Saddam in one of his presidential palaces? Inquiring minds want to know.

Another whereas notes, "Iraq's demonstrated capability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction, the high risk that the current Iraqi regime will either employ those weapons to launch a surprise attack against the United States or its armed forces or provide them to international terrorists who would do so, and the extreme magnitude of harm that would result to the United States and its citizens from such an attack, combine to justify the use of force by the United States in order to defend itself."

Saddam is a brutal dictator who murdered his way to power, who runs a repressive, fascistic state, who violates UN resolutions, and who used chemical weapons against the Kurds and in his war against the Iraq (while the Reagan-Bush administration was quietly helping him). But mount a "surprise attack" against the United States? There are no indications he has ever pondered that. (Of course, such a move would be suicidal.) As for sharing weapons of mass destruction with terrorists, there are no signs that has been his aim.

Many experts, including hawkish ones, such as Richard Butler, the former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, argue that Saddam is not the sharing sort, that he would not pass a prized possession -- and a fundamental source of power -- to a group beyond his control. Admittedly, the prospect of a WMD hand-off should be of concern, for it is a theoretical possibility -- one, actually, made more probable by the Bush administration's get-Saddam-now crusade. But the White House is reckless to deem it a "high risk." Bush's draft resolution also bases its call for an "all-means" authorization on the "whereas" that Saddam is "actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability." That may well be. But the administration has provided little evidence Saddam has a robust and close-to-a-bomb program. A primary piece of the White House's case -- that Iraq had sought high-strength aluminum tubes to be used to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb -- has been challenged by scientific experts.

The Institute for Science and International Security released a report maintaining, "By themselves, these attempted procurements are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons." And The Washington Post reported that US intelligence officials differ on whether Iraq intended to use these tubes for a nuclear program, with some maintaining the aluminum was destined for launch tubes for artillery rockets. (By the way, David Albright, a physicist and former nuclear weapons inspector in Iraq who wrote the ISIS report, says government experts who disagreed with the administration's conclusion that the tubes were meant for bomb-making were told to keep quiet.)

The nature and extent of Saddam's nuclear program ought to be a decisive factor in determining what threat he poses. Yet the administration asserts its case without demonstrating it. In fact, a story by John Diamond in USA Today recently reported, "The Bush Administration is expanding on and in some cases contradicting US intelligence reports in making the case for an invasion of Iraq, interviews with administration and intelligence officials indicate." That sounds like fraud.

Diamond noted that Hans Blix, the chief UN arms inspector, has said that satellite pictures of Iraq contain no evidence Saddam has been rebuilding his WMD arsenal. House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi accused Bush officials of "embellishments" in secret intelligence briefings on Iraq. According to Diamond, "Some [intelligence] agency officials say privately that they do not want to be pushed into going beyond the facts to provide justification for a war....CIA analysts have reported that Saddam wants weapons for prestige and security, not for an attack on US interests that would almost certainly bring a devastating US response." Perhaps that is why the intelligence community -- as it is called -- has not prepared a National Intelligence Estimate assessing the threat posed to the United States by Iraq.

This piece of news comes courtesy of Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who sits on the intelligence committee. On September 17, she sent Bush a letter requesting he lean on the CIA to produce a NIE, which is the most authoritative intelligence report produced by the intelligence establishment. (Two of her Democratic colleagues on the committee have already asked CIA director George Tenet for NIEs related to Iraq.) "With so much at stake," Feinstein wrote Bush, "I was thus concerned to find that there has been little formal current intelligence analysis which seeks to answer the most critical of questions: What is the threat posed by Iraq? What will be the result if we attack Iraq?...I deeply believe that such an assessment is vital to congressional decisionmaking." Presidential decisonmaking, too. Unless it would not back the case for rushing to war. But as they say in the intelligence business, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

And the Bush clan is wrapping itself in that maxim. At a recent congressional hearing Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz repeatedly noted that in the post-9/11 world, the United States cannot wait to receive intelligence confirming a threat. By then, he warned, it might be too late. As Condoleeza Rice, the national security adviser, melodramatically put it, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." This is a convenient stance for those who want war, for it absolves them of the need to prove a threat exists before resorting to drastic measures. In this view, the possible existence of a threat is sufficient cause for war, even a unilateral first-strike.

Four years have passed since UN weapons inspectors departed Iraq. Did Iraq build a nuclear device in that time? Or turn over weapons to terrorists? Or develop a long-range ballistic missile capacity for delivering biological or chemical weapons? Has it come close to doing any of this?

There are few public signs of such activity. Yet now the administration acts as if only days remain before mad-man Saddam unleashes Armageddon. If Bush is sitting on secret information that proves the necessity of dashing to war, he ought to find a way to make some of it public. (President Kennedy released top-secret reconnaissance photos to make his case against the Soviet Union during the Cuba missile crisis.) In the absence of such proof, Bush's draft resolution cannot be accepted at face-value -- especially when there is a chance, perhaps slim, that UN weapons inspectors might be able to return to Iraq to conduct unfettered, aggressive, and intrusive inspections. Congress should return this blank check and mark it insufficient whereases.

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