A year ago, the Congress of the United States overwhelmingly approved a resolution authorizing the President to use military force against Iraq to enforce United Nations resolutions the Iraqi regime was allegedly violating. The vote came after a months-long campaign by the administration to convince the Congress and the American people that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed and was prepared to use biological and chemical "weapons of mass destruction," that he was developing nuclear weapons and that his regime posed, in the words of President Bush, "a grave and gathering danger" to the safety and the security of the United States. And it was sometimes asserted, though more often implied, that the Iraqi regime had close ties to the al Qaida network and was in some way responsible for the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.
Yet today, the costs of that war, both in lives and dollars, are escalating while public support for it is waning. So the President is on another campaign to convince us that this war really was necessary and that the only alternative would have been, as he said in New Hampshire last week, to "leave the security of the United States in the hands of a madman." Bush still insists he was "not about to stand by and wait and trust in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein." Yet seven months after launching a war against the Iraqi dictator, the President has yet to come up with plausible evidence that the madman had either the plans or the means for threatening American security. And, as the President acknowledged not long ago, "We have no evidence" of any connection between Baghdad and the events of 9/11.
Nearly six months after the President declared the end of major combat operations in Iraq, Americans are still being killed on a daily basis. After months of fruitless searches, the "weapons of mass destruction" have still not been found. The British intelligence report the President relied on for his claim that Iraq had purchased uranium form Niger for nuclear weapons production turned out to have been bogus. The Iraq Survey Team headed by David Kay recently reported it found no evidence of a nuclear program after 1991. As for the biological and chemical weapons, it found only laboratories "suitable for continuing CBW research" as most modern laboratories are.
So Bush is now playing up the "humanitarian" argument for the war: that it saved "the dissidents who would be in (Saddam's) prisons or end up in his mass graves" and the "men and women who would fill Saddam's torture chambers or rape rooms." Surely, the case against the tyranny and shocking human rights violations of Saddam Hussein and any number of the world's other despots is a strong and compelling one. But that is not the basis on which the Iraq war was sold to the American people. And the Bush regime knows that neither the public nor the Congress would have bought it on that basis. The President turns out to be the prime purveyor of something he has accused his critics of practicing "revisionist history."
Was the case for war, then, "a fraud, made up in Texas" for political advantage, as Sen. Kennedy has charged? Recall the comment White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card made last fall, when asked why the President was pressing his case for war just before the congressional elections. "You don't roll out a new product in August," Card replied. Around the same time, Jonah Goldberg, a gung-ho supporter of the war, reported in his syndicated column that Presidential adviser Karl Rove was giving Republicans "power-point presentations" on the advantages of the war to the GOP. Those political advantages may not be all that motivated the President to beat the war drums as he did, but the White House was surely aware of them and willing to exploit them.
And the Democrats, with a few notable exceptions, hardly provided a profile in courage. Most of the congressional Democrats who opposed the war and at least a few Republicans who had expressed grave doubts about it, were deathly afraid of being portrayed as somehow unpatriotic, or unwilling to defend the American people against terrorism, if they didn't fall in line behind the President. In the end, they did, by authorizing the President to exercise a power the Constitution has given to the Congress alone the power to declare war.
Many of those who voted for that resolution, including a few now running for President, have since become quite eloquent in criticizing Bush over the war and the manner in which he has prosecuted it. Their complaints ring hollow after they unconstitutionally ceded to the commander in chief carte blanche to determine, entirely as his own discretion, whether and when we would be at war with Iraq.
October 18, 2003
Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny (send him mail) is a freelance writer.