President Bush Fails to Make His Case
Given what is at stake, one would have thought that the administration would have made a stronger case for going to war than President George W. Bush did on Monday evening.
The weakness of the administration's position is apparent in its insistence of repeating stories of Iraqi atrocities from more than 10 to 20 years ago, such as its support for international terrorist groups like Abu Nidal and its use of chemical weapons. It was during this period when the United States was quietly supporting the Iraqi regime, covering up reports of its use of chemical weapons and even providing intelligence for Iraqi forces that used such weapons against Iranian troops. Though the 1980s marked the peak of Iraq's support for terrorist groups, the U.S. government actually dropped Iraq from its list of states sponsoring terrorism because of its own ties to the Iraqi war effort.
Two decades later, in its annual report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism," the State Department presented no evidence of any current Iraqi support for active terrorist groups, only the granting of sanctuary to some aging leaders of dormant groups.
The president's speech again presented no evidence that the decidedly secular Baath regime of Saddam Hussein and the Islamist al-Qaeda had overcome their longstanding hostility toward one another. The only charge that appears to have any credibility is that of al-Qaeda operatives from Afghanistan being seen inside Iraq, yet all of these sightings have taken place in Kurdish areas in the north that are beyond Baghdad's control.
Accusations of Iraqi possession of ballistic missiles are similarly outdated: According to a 1998 report by the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), 817 of Iraq's 819 Soviet-build ballistic missiles have been accounted for and destroyed. Iraq may possess up to a couple of dozen homemade versions, but these have not been tested and it is questionable whether they have any functional launchers.
One of the few new threats mentioned in the president's speech is the alleged development by Iraq of unmanned aerial vehicles capable of distributing chemical or biological agents over a wide area. Given that virtually all of Iraq's neighbors have sophisticated anti-aircraft defenses, however, and that the U.S. Air Force rules the skies in that part of the world, such slow-moving UAVS would likely be shot down before they even left Iraqi air space.
President Bush's demands for a new Security Council resolution on Iraqi disarmament is a classic case of moving the goalposts. The U.S. had supported the terms that were spelled out in previous resolutions, but as soon as Iraq accepted them, the administration suddenly demanded this new resolution that would usurp them.
There are provisions in the U.S. proposal -- such as insisting on the right for U.S. officials to accompany the UN inspectors (who Iraq presumes would be spying), allowing the use of force for alleged noncompliance without first seeking UNSC approval, scrapping previously agreed-upon protocols, and demanding that simple reporting errors from the Iraqi side are legitimate grounds for war -- that seem designed to simply give a legal cover for a U.S. invasion.
Claiming that the UN's credibility is at stake if it does not back up its resolutions requiring Iraqi disarmament is similarly disingenuous. There are well over 90 UN Security Council resolutions that are currently being violated by countries other than Iraq. The vast majority of these resolutions are being violated by countries that receive U.S. military, economic and diplomatic support, such as Turkey, Indonesia and Israel. Indeed, the U.S. has effectively blocked the UN Security Council from enforcing many of these resolutions.
Perhaps the most misleading statement in the president's address was that the United States "has never permitted the brutal and lawless to set history's course." Had this been the case, successive Republican and Democratic administrations would have never supported the Indonesian dictator Suharto for over three decades, as he presided over the massacre of half a million of his own people and invaded the tiny nation of East Timor, resulting in the deaths of an additional 200,000 civilians. Nor would the United States have supported governments like Turkey, Israel and Morocco, which have also invaded neighboring countries at the cost of thousands of civilian lives.
Despite President Bush's assertion to the contrary, nobody believes that Saddam should be trusted. Yet renewed UN inspections combined with satellite and aerial surveillance, ongoing military sanctions and more, make it very unlikely that the Iraq regime could proceed with the development of weapons of mass destruction.
Claims that the threat from Iraq is "far more clearly defined" than al-Qaeda prior to last Sept. 11, 2001, are totally false. Al-Qaeda was quite explicit that it was targeting the United States. The reality of that threat was clear, such as the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the attack on the USS Cole. Iraq has never claimed it was targeting the U.S. Indeed, outside of the Gulf War in 1991 and the attack on the USS Stark more than 15 years ago (which the U.S. claimed was accidental), Iraq has never directly attacked American assets at home or abroad.
There are any number of regimes in the world today -- China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, among others -- for which one can think of worst-case scenarios similar to or worse than those being brought forward regarding Iraq. Yet no country has the right to invade another based upon such worst-case scenarios. Otherwise, there would be scores of new wars breaking out all over the world.
Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor of Foreign Policy in Focus and author of "Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism." He is an associate professor of politics and chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco.