The case for war has not been made

Colin Powell showed that Saddam Hussein is resisting disarming. But he didn't prove that he's an immediate threat.

Topics:

The case for war has not been made

Show and tell
As Colin Powell outlined his case against Iraq before the U.N. Security Council, with CIA director George Tenet sitting behind him, two questions kept occurring to me: Does this information prove that war is the best and only means to implement Resolution 1441? And if this information is accurate, was it provided to the UNMOVIC inspectors in full compliance with the responsibilities placed on all member states by that resolution? (Full text of Powell’s remarks is here.)

There are legitimate questions about the interpretation of what the tapes and satellite pictures mean, as we know from reported disputes within and between U.S. agencies over interpretation of intelligence about Iraq. Lacking the technical ability to evaluate this information, we will have to wait for other interpretations to emerge, if they do.

So let’s assume that all of the evidence presented by Powell can be taken at face value, as described by him. A Gallup poll today showed that on this issue, he is far more trusted than the president by most Americans, for good reason. Meanwhile, the intercepted conversations played by the secretary of state do seem to reveal panic among members of the Iraqi officer corps over the arrival of inspectors. The tapes suggest that the Republican Guard and other units have tried to conceal evidence of forbidden weapons. Those conversations also indicate more broadly that Iraq is not handing over all its weapons and information to UNMOVIC forthrightly, as required by 1441.

To an untrained eye, the satellite photographs are more difficult to judge, as Powell acknowledged. Pictures of buildings don’t tell us what’s inside them. If decontamination vehicles have been detected outside certain facilities, that too suggests concealment.

Information obtained from human informants is subject to all the traditional doubts about testimony from defectors, and is therefore less convincing. And even based on defector and prisoner testimony, the information regarding Baghdad’s alleged links with Osama bin Laden is still thin. (An essay in today’s Wall Street Journal by former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen advises the administration to drop this line of argument, but it’s only available online to subscribers.) Powell didn’t even try to suggest that Iraq was involved in any specific terrorist attacks on the United States, let alone the Sept. 11 atrocity.

There was quite a lot of other pertinent information missing from Powell’s address. It is hard to listen to him talk about Saddam’s violations of human rights and his gassing of the Kurds, without wondering why those events didn’t bother the Reagan and Bush administrations when they were actually occurring. (It’s easier to understand why he omitted any reference to the American role in arming Iraq and the subsequent coverup under his old boss, the president’s father.)

What was most noticeably absent from Powell’s presentation, however, was any evidence that Iraq is a present threat to its neighbors or any other nation — and thus must be invaded and subdued immediately. He showed that Saddam has sought an arsenal of mass destruction, and that his regime is still resisting disarmament. But he inadvertently made some arguments for continued inspections backed by force, rather than war.

“This effort to hide things from the inspectors is not one or two isolated events, quite the contrary,” he said. “This is part and parcel of a policy of evasion and deception that goes back 12 years, a policy set at the highest levels of the Iraqi regime.” No doubt true — and yet the U.N. inspection team between 1991 and 1998 destroyed tens of thousands of tons of chemical and biological weapons, prohibited missiles and the Iraqi nuclear program in its entirety, despite Saddam’s duplicity. What the inspectors are now trying to find is a small fraction of what their predecessors found and neutralized.

Powell also pointed to the documents found by inspectors in the home of an Iraqi nuclear scientist, an achievement he attributed to “intelligence they were provided.” If sharing U.S. intelligence with the inspectors can locate documents in a private home, why not continue with that process?

You Might Also Like

“Tell me, answer me, are the inspectors to search the house of every government official, every Baath Party member and every scientist in the country to find the truth, to get the information they need, to satisfy the demands of our council?” the secretary demanded. They don’t need to do that. Finding every scrap of paper is not the mandate of the inspectors. Locating weapons and laboratories is their job, and Powell only offered glancing indications that the U.S. has made that easier.

There was also a clue that American confidence in the data presented by Powell is not absolute. His presentation about links between Iraq and al-Qaida included a satellite photograph described as a “terrorist camp” in northern Iraq where operatives are trained in the use of poisons. “You see a picture of this camp,” he said. “The network is teaching its operatives how to produce ricin and other poisons … Those helping to run this camp are Zarqawi lieutenants operating in northern Kurdish areas outside Saddam Hussein’s controlled Iraq. But Baghdad has an agent in the most senior levels of the radical organization, Ansar al-Islam, that controls this corner of Iraq.”

If the United States firmly believes that its satellites have located an al-Qaida training camp in northern Iraq, why haven’t our bombers, jets and missiles destroyed it already? On the ground, northern Iraq is friendly Kurdish territory, and the U.S. and its allies control the airspace.

Nothing Powell said proved that war is necessary now. He didn’t justify the potential deaths of thousands of people and the unforeseeable dangers of an invasion by the U.S. and its coalition. He didn’t convince the Security Council to change course in support of immediate war. What he did prove is that inspections ought to continue and intensify — and if Iraq tries to frustrate them as the regime did in 1998, there will still be plenty of time for military action.

French kiss-off
France is no longer an ally of the United States, according to neocon eminence Richard Perle, who told a conference in New York yesterday that other friends in Europe “must develop a strategy to contain our erstwhile ally or we will not be talking about a NATO alliance.” Insofar as Perle sometimes plays “bad cop” for the Bush White House as chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, his remarks suggest a bullying approach that is growing worse as they move closer to war. (Several days ago on Fox News, Perle accused the French government of pursuing an Iraq policy controlled solely by oil interests.)

At the New York event Perle also suggested that the United States should never again consult the U.N. Security Council on a matter of important policy. Such is Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld policy at its worst: provoke America’s oldest friends, bluster about dumping the U.N. when we don’t get our way immediately, and dismantle the most important military alliance in the world in a fit of pique. It sounds eerily like the John Birch Society, circa 1962.

Perle’s hostility to France is nothing new, but it made me recall today that he owns a very nice little house in the south of France. It’s near the town of Gordes in the Luberon. I know because I went to a New Year’s Day party at that house two years ago (he wasn’t there). Maybe he’s sold his share of it.

[2:05 p.m. PST, Feb. 5, 2003]

For your regular Joe, bookmark this link. To send an e-mail, click here.

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>