As this is written, the campaign known as "shock and awe" has begun over Iraq and the five million civilian inhabitants of Baghdad. Bombs indeed shock, but why the word "awe"? This is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's way of turning the Iraq bombardment against what he knows is a defenseless country, run by a brutal dictator, into a metaphor for the rest of the world. He wants the whole world in "awe" of the mighty military superpower in preparation for the next move against another country in or outside the "axis of evil".
This is truly an extraordinary time in American history. A dozen men and one woman are making very risky consequential decisions sealed off from much muted dissent inside the Pentagon, the State Department, the CIA and other agencies that have warned the President and his small band of ideological cohorts to think more deeply before they leap. They are launching our nation into winning a war which generates later battles that may not be winnable - at least not without great economic and human costs to our country.
But let's back up a moment. Our founding fathers most emphatically placed the warmaking power in the hands of Congress. They did not want some arrogant or brooding successor to King George III to plunge the country into war. They wanted a collegial body of many elected representatives to decide openly (Article I, section 8).
Last year, Congress, with leaders of both Parties, surrendered their warmaking power to George W. Bush. This itself is unlawful. But unfortunately, there is no judicial remedy for any citizen to challenge assigning the warmaking power to the President. Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) eloquently and repeatedly objected to this constitutional abdication. The large majority of Congress just shrugged. They knew that there was no punishment for this institutional crime.
Mr. Bush, on the other hand, was only too eager to strip the Congress of such authority, just as the Attorney General, both by action and by demanding and receiving such crushers of civil liberties as the so-called U.S. Patriot Act, was eager to diminish the role of the judiciary. Having turned our federal system of separation of powers between three branches into a one-branch hegemony, Mr. Bush proceeded to flout the U.N. Charter, which the U.S. mostly drafted and signed on to in 1945.
His preemptive war - the first in U.S. history - against a nation that has neither attacked nor threatened our country cannot be construed as self-defense and therefore violates international law. Washington would certainly make exactly this point were another nation in the world to attack a country it finds noxious.
Then how do the arguments for going to war that Bush has made endlessly on the mass media for a year, without a steady rebuttal by the cowering Democratic Party, stand up? Bush's assertion that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program is based on evidence that Congressman Henry Waxman called a "hoax." In a blistering letter to the President on March 17th, Congressman Waxman all but called Bush's assertion that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger a lie, citing both the CIA and the International Atomic Energy Agency as his authorities. Neither agency has evidence of a rebuilding nuclear weapons program.
President Bush has repeatedly tried to tie Iraq with Al-Qaeda. There is no evidence to support these allegations. The two are mortal enemies - one secular and the other fundamentalist. The CIA informed Congress that confronting a U.S. overthrow attack, our former, supplied ally, Saddam Hussein "probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions." Even then, analysts have published articles casting doubt on the efficacy of whatever mass destruction weapons he may have against a modern air and missile attack followed by spread-out armored vehicles racing toward a surrendering army.
The UN inspectors found nothing in their forays inside Iraq before Bush stopped their increasing penetration of that regime.
On March 18th, the Washington Post, which avidly favors the war, felt obliged to publish a story by two of its leading reporters titled, "Bush Clings to Dubious Allegations About Iraq." The article questioned a "number of allegations" that the Bush administration is making against Iraq that "have been challenged - and in some cases disproved - by the United Nations, European governments and even U.S. intelligence reports."
Now that the short war has begun, it is hoped that there will be minimum casualties on both sides. But after the U.S. military prevails, the longer battles during occupation begin. They are fires, disease, hunger, plunder and looting by desperate people and roving gangs, and bloodletting between major religious and ethnic factions.
U.S. intelligence agencies say the Iraq war will likely increase global terrorism including inside this country. Respected retired military generals and admirals, such as Marine General Anthony Zinni, believe it will destabilize the Middle East region, undermine the war on terrorism and distract from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "King George" is not listening to them or to other prominent former leaders in the State Department, Pentagon or the major intelligence agencies, including his father's own National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft.
This must be the only war in our history promoted by chickenhawks - former belligerent draft dodgers - and opposed by so many of those inside and outside of government who served in the armed forces.
Still the Messianic militarist in the White House refuses to even listen - either to opposing viewpoints held by tens of millions of Americans or to viewpoints counseling other non-war ways to achieve the objectives in Iraq. Indeed, he has refused to meet with any domestic antiwar delegation. Groups representing veterans, labor, business, elected city officials, women, clergy, physicians and academics with intelligence experience have written requesting an audience (see www.essentialaction.org).
Michael Kinsley is a sober, bright columnist who said that "in terms of the power he now claims, George W. Bush is now the closest thing in a long time to dictator of the world." One might also use a Canadian phrase - an elected dictator. Correction - a judicially-selected dictator.