September 11 Digital Archive: XML Document

Story:"Should we go to war against Iraq?"

September 8, 2002

This morning I listened to Bob Schieffer interviewing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on CBS TVs Face the Nation. Rumsfeld gave evasive answers to Schieffers questions, and Schieffer was too polite to press him. I imagine my frustration was similar to that of members of Congress after their closed meeting with Rumsfeld last week.

The first President Bush went to war with Iraq in 1991 after a debate in Congress that stopped short of a declaration of war, allegedly because of Iraqs invasion of Kuwait, a country to which we have paid no attention since the Iraqi armed forces left it. Our true objective was to regain lost oil supplies in those countries and protect endangered oil supplies in Saudi Arabia. This year President Bush II wanted to go to war with Iraq without a debate in Congress, let alone a declaration of war, but thought better of it, given widespread sentiment at home and among our allies that it wasnt a good idea. Curiously, instead of being the principal spokesperson for his views, Bush allowed Vice President Cheney and others to make the arguments and to shift their positions when confronted with broad opposition, but there is no sign that Bush is backing down. In the past, the United States has used military force against other nations without a declaration of war, but never with such extraordinary consequences as are likely if we start this war.

President Bush needs to provide affirmative and persuasive answers to the following questions in order to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein is a clear and present danger to the United States and the world. If he cannot, we should not engage in a war that is likely to lead to more terrorist acts, increase hostility toward the United States, cost many military and civilian lives, require a long-term commitment to nation-building, and prove to be a political disaster in the pursuit of world peace.

Should Saddam Hussein be singled out for removal? He is the brutal ruler of a repressive state. Nevertheless, we provided his dictatorship with military support in its ten-year war with Iran and offered no opposition to his cruel treatment of political opponents and national minorities. There are other governments that do not tolerate dissent; they include our staunch economic and sometimes political ally, Saudi Arabia. No evidence has been presented that Iraq played a important role in the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. By contrast, fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudi Arabians; Saudis have given significant financial support to Al Qaeda, and Saudi Arabia has not aided our efforts to expose and eliminate international terrorism. Saudi Arabia would be the logical choice if we were to single out one state for retaliation against terrorism, but Saudi oil and investment are important to the former business partners of Bush II and Vice President Cheney and Iraq is not. NO, evil as Saddam is, he does not merit being singled out either for his tyrannical rule or the threat he poses to the security of the United States.

Does the Constitution give the president the power that Bush claimed? What Bush II wanted was faster than so-called fast track power; it would have jumped the track. Bush would, if he could, ignore the Constitutions explicit and exclusive grant of power to Congress to declare war. The president is not given this power. No one denies the presidential power as Commander in Chief of the armed forces to respond to an attack, but no matter how many times presidents have initiated hostilities against other sovereign nations without a declaration by Congress, each instance violated the letter and spirit of the Constitution. There has never been an international crisis that less justified precipitous action than this, if it is really a crisis calling for early resolution. That Bush II appears to be backing down from his earlier stance does not represent his conversion to fidelity to the Constitution, but a recognition of the enormous political risks of his earlier position. NO, the Constitution should be respected.

Does the 1991 action of Congress justify future American action against Iraq? The Bush II administration has made the ludicrous claim that Congresss action in 1991 for Bush I justifies American aggression in 2002. It does not. Moreover, Bush I explained that the reason the U.S. did not pursue Saddam Hussein and destroy his power was that the president had not been given the authority to do so and in continuing the war into Baghdad we would have gone far beyond what our allies were prepared to do. Both of those conditions are unchanged. NO, the president cannot be given an undated blank check to take unilateral action leading to war.

Would Bush II accept effective arms inspection in Iraq? Bushs insistence that the United States will accept nothing short of Saddam Husseins removal indicates that he is unwilling to seriously entertain any action by Iraq that allows inspection and other steps that will provide reassurance to the international community that Iraq is not preparing to
launch a military strike. Scott Ritter, who probably knows more about the effectiveness of inspection than anyone else, believes that the earlier inspectors were very successful in uncovering violations and that a future team of United Nations inspectors can do even better. NO, Bushs objective is nothing less than Saddams removal.

Are we willing to bear the cost of an American war against Iraq? American servicemen will die. The U.S. will lose significant allied support. Many civilians will die in Iraq, and the worlds compassion for the tragedy of September 11 may diminish. We will lose even the present slim prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and increase the likelihood of military action against Israel. Saddam Hussein is likely to use such weapons of mass destruction as he has or can obtain, because he will have nothing to lose by undertaking desperate acts aimed at those who would destroy him. NO, the United States is not willing to pay these costs of war and victory.

Is the United States prepared to make a commitment to create a new Iraqi regime? In 1991, Bush I gave Muslim dissidents in the south and Kurds in the north of Iraq clear signals that the United States would support their efforts to overthrow the Iraqi tyranny. The United States betrayed them, and they were slaughtered by Saddams forces. Foreign affairs scholars concluded that the U.S. had been unwilling to risk the division of Iraq into three or more separate states. Iraqis who wish to depose Saddam have no reason to believe that the U.S. would come to their aid after another war. As reluctant as we are to risk the loss of American lives in war, we are even more reluctant to assign American troops to long-term service abroad, with the likely loss of more American lives. Beyond the cost of waging war, the United States would have to spend billions of dollars to support dissidents, establish a new regime, and rebuild a nation. NO, Given Bushs announced antipathy to nation-building, the rest of the world doubts that the U.S. is prepared to commit itself to such an undertaking.

Will an American war against Iraq lessen the threat of terrorism against the United States? If the United States initiates a war, without the support of most of our traditional allies and with the active opposition of Arab states, it jeopardizes our alliances against terrorism, increases support for Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, and makes more likely further attacks against the United States and those few nations, particularly Israel, that actively support the American initiative. In the absence of any credible evidence that the September 11, 2001 attack upon the United States was undertaken by or with substantial support from Iraq, a war begun by the United States will not only strain our relations with other governments; it will increase fear and hatred of the United States in world public opinion. NO, the threat of terrorism will not diminish as a result of an American war against Iraq.

Is Bush IIs insistence on aggressive war free of any unworthy political motive? A war against Iraq would divert the electorates attention from the administrations domestic failures just prior to a mid-term election in which the administration fears that it may lose its House majority and the Democratic Senate majority may be increased, thus ensuring stronger resistance to administration efforts to cut taxes further for the highest-paid Americans, pack the federal judiciary with strongly right-wing ideologues, undermine international treaties and other agreements to protect the environment, and other actions that, in the name of national security, would reshape an America that is less liberal and enjoys less liberty. YES OR NO? We may know some day, but we are not likely to find out if Bush II has his way and American presidents and ex-presidents are allowed to withhold their presidential papers forever from the American people and future scholars.


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