The pre-emptive war that President George W. Bush launched against Iraq under false pretenses a year ago opened with an attempted assassination of Saddam Hussein, who was supposedly dining with his two sons.
Some three dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles were reportedly fired at the Hussein party from four cruisers and destroyers and two submarines operating in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. Such armament for a hit against a sovereign head of state had not been launched since Ronald Reagan sent a wing of F-111s against Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. This hit, too, was executed under the guidance of top U.S. intelligence. This hit, too, failed, as did the one against Hussein, on March 19, 2003.
The 10-minute assassination attempt rocked Baghdad's first dawn at 5:35 a.m. and jump-started Bush's ballyhooed "shock and awe" invasion. U.S. military officials would let on only that Bush's approval of the hit attempt took advantage of the CIA's "targets of opportunity."
Hussein survived the high-tech attempt on his life by the most sophisticated power on the planet, emerging unscathed to poke TV fun at the swaggering "Junior Bush."
In a four-minute address Bush informed "fellow citizens" that "at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger. On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war."
The assassination attempt against Hussein was not mention in Bush's short address. Had the president's effort been successful, however, the hit, as suggested, would certainly have "undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war."
The historic address was noteworthy for other omissions and overstatements.
"More than 35 countries are giving crucial support," he said without reminding Americans of the crucial allies, save Britain, that were not lending their support. Australia was on board, as was Chad and Barbados in principle. France and Germany staunchly opposed, as did the United Nations.
Citing Security Council resolutions, Ari Fleischer likened the danger Iraq posed to the 1962 threat Cuba posed with its nuclear-tipped missiles 90 miles away from Florida. "Just as President Kennedy imposed a quarantine around Cuba - "an act of war," Fleischer reportedly said - "to force it to remove nuclear missiles, Mr. Bush is acting to protect the United States from a threat that it would never see coming."
"Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly," said the quite impatient president on March 19, "yet our purpose is sure. The people of the United States ... will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder."
Today, not even Bush clings to the lie that Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Instead, he speaks of liberating the Iraqi people, a noble cause, perhaps, but not for which the Constitution allows a president and the Congress to commit the nation's sons and daughters to war.
The high-tech intelligence that pinpointed Hussein at the start of the war reportedly had zeroed in on Osama bin Laden in the fall of 2000. NBC has intrigued us with blurry spy photos from an unarmed drone that reportedly shows bin Laden strolling on the plains with his aides.
While the right-wing hosts of Fox and cable chat shows were busy blaming Bill Clinton for not shooting bin Laden dead, NBC muted the media attack by revealing another drone shot of bin Laden in June 2001 when Bush was in the White House.
Unlike the earlier surveillance plane, the Bush-era drone was armed with a Hellfire missile that would make the president far more capable of attacking bin Laden than his predecessor. This missed opportunity for murder - and who can say for certain that the tall, robed man was bin Laden - is what convinced Bush to approve the hit on Hussian with the premature opening volley of the Iraq War.
It is troubling that the leader of the world's lone superpower would, like some overmatched, tinhorn, paranoid pip-squeak of a nation, consent to order the murder of a man poorly identified on a blurry videotape - an alleged, albeit notorious, suspect not yet indicted, convicted or put on trial.
It is also troubling that journalists, so called, would grant on-air demerits to a president for failing to order such a vigilante murder.
Is this any way for a civilized nation to act?
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