THE IMPERIAL presidency is back, and it looks like we may have a good, old-fashioned war with Iraq to show for it.
Never mind that our allies in Europe and the Middle East don't want the war. Never mind that lots of people in the Pentagon, State Department, and Congress (including House Majority Leader Dick Armey) don't seem to want it. And never mind that the Kurds in Northern Iraq aren't too keen on the idea, either.
You can also forget all that legalistic mumbo-jumbo--like how an Iraq invasion would violate international law and the U.N. Charter, or how the constitution assigns to Congress the power to declare war.
What matters is that the president and other chicken hawks holding his hand (Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz) want a war--and maybe more than just one.
In all fairness, it should be noted that the White House has received quite a bit of help in putting the country on a fast track to war. Last week's Senate hearings on Iraq, along with the shoddy work of stenographers masquerading as journalists (you may have read examples of this work in our newspaper), have gone a long way toward making war seem inevitable.
The largely unquestioned assumption being peddled by the White House, senators such as Richard Shelby, and a (mostly) compliant media is that Saddam Hussein poses an imminent threat to the United States. The conclusion that necessarily follows is that we should take him out now, before he can further develop any weapons of mass destruction.
There's a problem, though, with the assumption, as Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told me in a phone interview this week: "There isn't any evidence being presented" to back it up.
Hans von Sponeck, a former U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator for Iraq who returned recently from a two-week stay in the country, went a step further than Bennis in a July 22 commentary for the London Guardian: "The U.S. Department of Defense and the CIA know perfectly well that today's Iraq poses no threat to anyone in the region, let alone in the United States. To argue otherwise is dishonest."
Meanwhile, Scott Ritter, a former chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq who calls himself a card-carrying Republican, is quoted in the Guardian as saying this about the public "debate" over Iraq:
"This isn't American democracy in action. It's the failure of American democracy. Before we go to war with Iraq, we must be able to determine that Iraq poses a threat to the national security of the U.S. Such a determination must be backed up with substantive fact. I believe that Iraq does not pose a threat to the U.S. worthy of war. This conclusion is shared by many senior military officers."
Ritter wrote last week in Newsday that "it is imperative that the Senate discuss means other than war for dealing with this situation--including the need to resume U.N.-led weapons inspections in Iraq."
Bennis also recommends a return to inspections, viewing them as part of a larger strategy for achieving lasting peace in the Middle East. She said a realistic alternative to war would involve declaring the entire Middle East a weapons of mass destruction-free zone (that would include Israel); a lifting of economic sanctions against Iraq, accompanied by a tightening of military sanctions by making them regional (this again would include Israel); a regional disarmament plan that would start with a halt to U.S. arms shipments to the region; and a renunciation by the Bush administration of its claim that it has the right to invade a country that has not attacked the United States.
"At the end of the day, an invasion will not ensure stability, let alone democracy, in Iraq or the rest of the volatile Middle East region, and will put American civilians at greater risk of hatred and perhaps terrorist attacks than they are today," Bennis said in a written statement introduced by Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota as part of the official record of last week's Senate hearings.
A war would certainly put Iraqi civilians at greater risk. Bennis' statement cites Pentagon estimates of two years ago that put a war's likely death toll among Iraqi civilians at 10,000. And the destruction of civilian infrastructure, she says, "would lead to tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of more civilian deaths, particularly among children, the aged, and others of the most vulnerable sectors."
It may be too late to change Bush's mind about this war. His so-called "moral clarity" seems more and more like a fool's--or scoundrel's--imperviousness to the facts. Remember that this is the president who has ignored his own Environmental Protection Agency's findings on global warming, and who has cut international family-planning funds and justified the decision with claims that his own State Department had refuted.
On the other hand, Bush isn’t impervious to the polls. And, in the end, the decision whether to invade Iraq will be “poll-driven,”says Bennis. “If it’s [politically] risky, they won’t do it.”
That’s why each of us needs to seek out a broad range of news and opinion on Iraq, then reach our own conclusion and make our voice heard.
RICK MERCIER is editor of the Viewpoints section and a columnist for The Free Lance-Star. He can be reached at
Copyright 2001 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.