Headlines tell us that United Nations arms inspectors have failed to find a "smoking gun" in their ongoing, unimpeded search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Yet the Bush administration, like a peeved child, has treated what should be good news as nothing more than rain on its war parade.
President Bush wants his war, and the inveterate hawks in his administration simply spin the glaring lack of evidence into further proof of Saddam Hussein's dangerous chicanery.
This week, it was Richard Perle, a top defense advisor, telling the BBC that inspectors had no chance of finding the alleged weapons and that if they aren't discovered "there will be military action."
It's truly frightening when facts don't matter as a nation prepares for war. Once the bombing begins, any search for truth will end. Now is the time to question a pattern of egregious distortion of the facts on the part of a White House that apparently feels it needs a war to retain its fading popularity.
The most dangerous of these distortions is the administration claim that it has evidence Iraq is close to developing nuclear weapons. Remember, for example, those aluminum tubes we heard so much about as the president beat the drums of war? "Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons," Bush told us. Surely his advisors must have had at least an inkling that, as an International Atomic Energy Agency report stated, they were the wrong kind of tubes for producing nuclear weapons materials. The IAEA report also states clearly that Iraq would find it very difficult to develop a nuclear weapons program while inspectors were present.
"I hope the U.S. does not know anything we do not know," IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told Time magazine in an interview published Sunday. "If they do, they should tell us. If they are talking about indigenous capability, Iraq is far away from that. If Iraq has imported material hidden, then you're talking about six months or a year. But that's a big if."
One assumes that as part of his education, Bush heard the tale of the boy who cried wolf. Not only is the credibility of the United States jeopardized by false alarms, but in U.S. dealings with Iraq they undermine international efforts to accurately monitor the proliferation of nuclear weapons by subjecting the standards of international science, as represented by the U.N. inspectors, to the parochial requirements of our national politics.
Nuclear bombs remain far and away the most serious weapons of mass destruction, in a ghoulish category all their own. Even a regional nuclear war, say, between enemies Pakistan and India, would threaten the planet. Pakistan's weapons and delivery system were developed in cooperation with North Korea, which our intelligence agencies believe has two nuclear bombs and the ability to make more soon. If North Korea further develops its nuclear capacity and continues to market that technology abroad, it will move us in the direction of a conflagration. Yet, to the U.S. administration's credit, and rendering even more irrational the obsession with going to war with Iraq, Bush now wants to find a diplomatic solution with Pyongyang.
Of course, it does not look wise in hindsight that upon taking office, Bush abruptly broke off historic U.S.-North Korea talks. Politics make strange bedfellows, however, and we now seem on the verge of making concessions to North Korea's leader -- Kim Jong Il, whom our president previously called a loathsome "pygmy" -- to make it easier to go to war with Baghdad. Iraq remains Bush's fixation.
But it is critically in the interest of the world's immediate and future security that any war-making be forestalled until the work of the arms professionals is complete.
In fact, our one clear ally on the Iraq adventure, Britain, is now endorsing this position of patience. Prime Minister Tony Blair argued over the weekend that U.N. inspectors be granted the "time and space" to complete their job. So let's give the inspectors the year they say they need.
A member of Blair's Cabinet pleaded, "I think all the people of Britain have a duty to keep our country firmly on the U.N. route, so that we stop the U.S. maybe going to war too early."
And who but an intemperate child would want to go to war "too early"?
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times