LARAMIE, Wyo. -- The Bush administration has been misleading the public about the dangers Iraq poses to the United States and the rest of the world, former Sen. George McGovern said Tuesday.
McGovern, a Democrat from South Dakota who ran against President Nixon in 1972, spoke at the University of Wyoming College of Education at the invitation of former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and his brother, political science professor emeritus Pete Simpson.
McGovern said the administration has been unsuccessful in its efforts to show a link between Iraq and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and has overstated Iraq's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
"Every thoughtful person knows that whatever they have in the way of these sophisticated weapons is an eye dropper compared to what we have," he said. "Or what the Russians have, or the French or the British, or the Pakistanis, or the Indians, or the Israelis or even the North Koreans.
"Do you know why none of them have ever been used, except for the two that we used in Japan? Because every country that has them knows that the first moment they use one of those weapons, they are going to be incinerated by the United States and other nuclear and strategically armed countries."
He said any attack by Iraq on the United States would be "naked suicide."
"Rather, if they have them, they would be used to deter the kind of attack that is now going on with American forces. If they are ever going to be used -- if in fact they have them -- I would expect it to be done within the next couple of weeks.
"When are they ever going to use them if they don't use them when they are being assailed and cornered in the heart of Baghdad?"
McGovern was elected to the House in 1956 but was defeated in a bid for the Senate in 1960. President Kennedy appointed McGovern director of the Food for Peace Program and his 1962 Senate race was successful.
He said his biggest regret in his 18 years in the Senate was voting for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which passed nearly unanimously and gave President Johnson broader authority to wage the Vietnam War. He said to this day it is hard to walk by the Vietnam War Memorial without crying.
Saddam a bad man
"I don't suggest that Iraq is the same," he said. "Iraq probably has the worst tyrant on the world scene today."
But he said Bush should have allowed United Nations weapons inspectors more time to do their job, pointing out how Iraq's military has "not so much as stuck his big toe beyond the borders of Iraq" since the first weapons inspections 12 years ago.
"We have high-powered, sophisticated American aircraft flying over that country every day and we have had for years," he said. "We know pretty much what's going on the ground and that's been supplemented, intermittently, by inspections by the United Nations arms inspectors.
"They know chemical materials when they find them. They know biological materials. They certainly know nuclear materials and for many years they have been roving around Iraq.
"And, by the way, they have destroyed hundreds of weapons that were believed to be in violation."
He said that before invading, the United States also should have spent more time trying to understand why so many have been opposed to war. "I don't know what this does as far as the long-term standing of the United States in the world morally and politically. But I don't think it does us any good," he said.
"Vietnam, by the way, had the same impact ... We were never so isolated in global opinion than when we were deepest in the jungles of Vietnam."
Similarly, McGovern called for more effort to understand the motivations of terrorists, which he said are fueled by economic hardship and a sense that the United States favors Israel over the Palestinians.
"Why is it that a wealthy fanatic like Osama bin Laden can walk through the slums of Cairo and the backcountry of Saudi Arabia and the hills of Afghanistan, and recruit tens of thousands of young men -- and some of them women -- who are willing to put their lives on the line to strike the West and especially to strike the U.S.?"
Since being voted out of the Senate in 1980, McGovern has been a visiting professor at universities including Columbia, Northwestern, Cornell, American University and the University of Berlin.
He was president of the Middle East Policy Council from 1991-1998. After that, he was appointed by President Clinton as ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.
Clinton awarded McGovern the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in August 2000.
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press