Last year, in his State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush appears to have been somewhat in error when he described the vast array of weapons controlled by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
With some qualifiers, Bush said Saddam had 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent and upward of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering those chemical and biological agents. He also said Saddam had several mobile biological-weapons labs, which could be moved from place to place to evade inspectors. And, for the pièce de résistance, Bush offered proof that Saddam was working on nuclear weapons.
As if that weren't enough, Bush also suggested strongly a link between Saddam and terrorist members of Al Qaeda.
It was a sobering report. Those of us listening to it had little reason to doubt its authenticity. And it became the foundation for the Bush administration's claim that Saddam was a threat to the United States of America, and it behooved us to get him before he got us.
So we went to war with Iraq and discovered in due time that Bush had used his reputation as a straight shooter to convince us of "facts" that just didn't exist.
When it became obvious that Bush was full of it, he and others in his administration switched gears. We had to conquer and occupy Iraq, they said, because Saddam was a horrible despot who had to be removed for the sake of Iraqis and all humankind.
That argument actually held water. It is hard to imagine a modern-day dictator more brutal than Saddam, though some might exist.
So the fear campaign out of the White House turned out to be just a marketing technique, a device used to sell a war that might not otherwise be tolerated by the American public. Richard Perle, a White House insider, has said as much. Bush himself has now admitted that Iraq had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, though he still uses those attacks to sell other unrelated policies.
What I'm wondering, through all this, is how Bush might have sold the war in Iraq if he had stuck with the truth. Perhaps it would have gone something like this:
"My fellow Americans, the world has a problem. Saddam Hussein runs the nation of Iraq with an iron fist, killing anyone who even mildly disagrees with him. He has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and shows no sign of letting up.
"In his prolonged war with Iran, he used chemical weapons against both the Iranians and the Kurds living in his own country. As you know, chemical weapons are outlawed by international agreement. Had he used mere bombs and napalm and land mines and rockets and artillery shells and flame throwers, we would have no problem with him. But poison gas? Give me a break!
"As you know, we fought Saddam before, a dozen years ago. We drove his troops out of Kuwait and slaughtered a goodly number of them on the road to Basra. We can handle these people. They're no match for our size, our technology and our advanced equipment.
"As you also know, Saddam concocted a plot to assassinate my father when he traveled to the Middle East as president. It didn't work, thank God, but don't think for a minute that I'm forgetting it.
"Anyway, I think it's time to take out Saddam and see if we can install a democratic government in Iraq. Right now there's only one democratic nation in that part of the world, Israel, and for some odd reason other nations are not adopting Israel's form of government. But maybe when we force Iraq into becoming a democracy, other Arab and Persian nations will follow suit.
"Okay, now here's the catch. Nobody gets nothin' for nothin', as they say, and there will be a cost to our humanitarian mission in Iraq. I'm figuring about $200 billion up front. That works out to about $1,500 per taxpayer, which is mere chump change for most of you, I'm sure.
"And -- full disclosure here -- we'll have to borrow the money, because our treasury is empty. Yeah, we've had a string of bad luck in the last couple years, and the big surplus Bill Clinton left us is gone now and we're hopelessly mired in debt. But not to worry. We can borrow the money and pay later. Because of interest, that might double your cost, so, just to be on the safe side, figure your individual tab for ridding the world of Saddam to be about $3,000.
"There's one other point I have to bring up, and that's casualties. War is hell, you know, and people die in wars. That's just the way it is. So we're going to have to sacrifice several hundred of your sons and daughters to bring Saddam down.
"Now I know for most of you, your sons and daughters will never see this war. They'll be in college or working in the family business or breaking into the legal profession or maybe even starting up a little oil business in Midland. Take it from me, there are all kinds of ways for young people to avoid going to war.
"But for those of you in a socioeconomic position where joining the military is the best financial opportunity available for your sons and daughters, well, we appreciate your sacrifice.
"Oh, dang, I almost forgot to mention the wounded. They are telling me that about one in 50 fighters over there will end up permanently damaged: loss of an arm or a leg or more, blindness, whatever -- it's war, and stuff happens. So I guess we have to factor that into the cost, including the fact that all these disabled young people will be pensioned off for the rest of their lives and will have to be treated at government expense.
"So, that's the deal, folks. We have to start banging away at that ol' Axis of Evil, and Iraq and Saddam seems like a good place to start. What do you think? Are you in, or out?"
Harley Sorensen is a longtime journalist. His column appears Mondays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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