RECENT PRESS reports indicate that planning for war against Iraq has advanced
significantly. When combined with revelations about the granting of presidential
authority to the CIA for covert operations aimed at eliminating Saddam Hussein,
it appears that the United States is firmly committed to a path that will lead
toward war with Iraq.
Prior to this occurring, we would do well to reflect on the words of President
Abraham Lincoln who, in his Gettysburg Address, defined the essence of why democracies
like ours go to war: so ``... that government of the people, by the people, for
the people, shall not perish from the earth.''
Does Iraq truly threaten the existence of our nation? If one takes at face
value the rhetoric emanating from the Bush administration, it would seem so. According
to President Bush and his advisers, Iraq is known to possess weapons of mass destruction
and is actively seeking to reconstitute the weapons production capabilities that
had been eliminated by UN weapons inspectors from 1991 to 1998, while at the same
time barring the resumption of such inspections.
I bear personal witness through seven years as a chief weapons inspector in
Iraq for the United Nations to both the scope of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
programs and the effectiveness of the UN weapons inspectors in ultimately eliminating
While we were never able to provide 100 percent certainty regarding the disposition
of Iraq's proscribed weaponry, we did ascertain a 90-95 percent level of verified
disarmament. This figure takes into account the destruction or dismantling of
every major factory associated with prohibited weapons manufacture, all significant
items of production equipment, and the majority of the weapons and agent produced
With the exception of mustard agent, all chemical agent produced by Iraq prior
to 1990 would have degraded within five years (the jury is still out regarding
Iraq's VX nerve agent program - while inspectors have accounted for the laboratories,
production equipment and most of the agent produced from 1990-91, major discrepancies
in the Iraqi accounting preclude any final disposition at this time.)
The same holds true for biological agent, which would have been neutralized
through natural processes within three years of manufacture. Effective monitoring
inspections, fully implemented from 1994-1998 without any significant obstruction
from Iraq, never once detected any evidence of retained proscribed activity or
effort by Iraq to reconstitute that capability which had been eliminated through
In direct contrast to these findings, the Bush administration provides only
speculation, failing to detail any factually based information to bolster its
claims concerning Iraq's continued possession of or ongoing efforts to acquire
weapons of mass destruction. To date no one has held the Bush administration accountable
for its unwillingness - or inability - to provide such evidence.
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld notes that ``the absence of evidence is not evidence
of absence.'' This only reinforces the fact that the case for war against Iraq
fails to meet the litmus test for the defense of our national existence so eloquently
phrased by President Lincoln.
War should never be undertaken lightly. Our nation's founders recognized this
when they penned our Constitution, giving the authority to declare war to Congress
and not to the president. Yet on the issue of war with Iraq, Congress remains
Critical hearings should be convened by Congress that will ask the Bush administration
tough questions about the true nature of the threat posed to the United States
by Iraq. Congress should reject speculation and demand substantive answers. The
logical forum for such a hearing would be the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.
Unfortunately, the senators entrusted with such critical oversight responsibilities
shy away from this task. This includes Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a Vietnam
War veteran who should understand the realities and consequences of war and the
absolute requirement for certainty before committing to a course of conflict.
The apparent unwillingness of Congress to exercise its constitutional mandate
of oversight, especially with regard to matters of war, represents a serious blow
to American democracy. By allowing the Bush administration, in its rush toward
conflict with Iraq, to circumvent the concepts of democratic accountability, Congress
is failing those to whom they are ultimately responsible - the American people.
Scott Ritter is author of ``Endgame: Solving the Iraqi Problem Once and
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