UNDER ABSTRACT notions of war, our killing of Saddam Hussein's sons was acceptable. Uday and Qusay Hussein carried out their father's wishes as genocidal murderers, torturers, and rapists. Their damnable lives made it so easy to praise their deaths.
Paul Bremer, the head of civilian restoration in Iraq, said, ''It's a great day for the Iraqi people and a great day for the American military, who once again showed their astounding professionalism.'' Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader, said the deaths were ''a big win for the people of Iraq, our troops, and the world.'' The headline on a Washington Post editorial proclaimed it was ''A good day in Iraq.''
President Bush said that this day reaffirmed that American soldiers are ''serving a cause that is noble and just and vital to the security of the United States.''
All this forgets the ignoble fact that this unprecedented first-strike war sold by Bush to Americans under the so-far phantom threat of Iraq's biological and nuclear weapons. Bush was so hungry for this war that he continues to twist the truth or lie before our eyes. Last week, in blaming the war on Saddam, Bush said: ''We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.''
The fact was Saddam, with 200,000 American and British soldiers surrounding him, did let weapons inspectors in. They were forced to evacuate after Bush said the war would commence. At the beginning of the war, the UN's chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, said, ''I do not think it is reasonable to close the door on inspections after 31/2 months.''
This is too much to leave to the abstract. With the stated foundation for a just war lying in ruins, the killings of the sons looks more like a zealous political assassination than a noble act. In 1976, President Ford issued an executive order banning assassinations. This was after the CIA was exposed and embarrassed by schemes to kill world leaders in developing countries.
American presidents have skirted the order ever since. In 1986 under President Reagan, American forces bombed and killed the year-old daughter of Libya's leader, Moammar Khadafy. In the first Gulf War of the first Bush administration, Robert Gates of the National Security Council, a future director of the CIA, said officials at the White House ''lit a candle every night hoping Saddam Hussein would be killed in a bunker.'' In a ceremony for that war, Defense Secretary Richard Cheney, now the vice president, signed a 2,000-pound bomb, ''To Saddam, with affection.'' Colin Powell, then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and now the secretary of state, signed the same bomb, ''You didn't move it, so now you lose it.''
Under President Clinton, NATO forces bombed the bedroom of the Serbian despot Slobodan Milosevic. After the bombing of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, Clinton ordered a cruise missile attack on Osama bin Laden's camp in Afghanistan. Clinton said, ''Unfortunately, we missed him.''
Last October, when reporters asked how much the current Iraq war would cost, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, ''The cost of one bullet, if the Iraqi people take it on themselves, is substantially less than that.''
Bush took on the responsibility of delivering the bullets at an unforeseen cost. There is no doubt that many Iraqis are happy that Saddam's sons are gone. But how it came to be may lower the standard even more for lethal force.
The ground force commander, General Ricardo Sanchez, was asked by two reporters similar questions Wednesday if the operation was indeed professional. The first reporter asked whether the mission was something of a failure given the value of the sons and the fact that they were armed with light weapons. Pentagon officials say they stormed the house of the sons only after the sons resisted.
Sanchez said, ''I would never consider this a failure.''
The second reporter said, ''The Americans are specialists in surrounding places, keeping people in them, holding up for a week if necessary, to make them surrender. These guys only had, it appears, AK-47s, and you had immense amount of firepower. Surely the possibility of the immense amount of information they could have given coalition forces, not to mention the trials that they could have been put on for war crimes, held out a much greater possibility of victory for you if you could have surrounded that house and just sat there until they came out, even if they were prepared to keep shooting.''
Sanchez said, ''Sir, that is speculation.''
The reporter said, ''No sir, it's an operational question. Surely you must have considered this more seriously than you suggested.''
Sanchez said, ''Yes, it was considered, and we chose the course of action that we took.''
The reporter asked, ''Why, sir?''
Sanchez said, ''Next slide - or next question please?''
Once again, America, right or not, answers to no one.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.