Joe Conason's Journal

Saddam-nuke hysteria reaches a new high. Plus: What Schr

By Salon Staff

Published September 23, 2002 3:19PM (EDT)

Scary TV shows and real threats
Worried that Saddam is planning to nuke a city near you? That's the kind of scare propaganda being spread by Clifford May, the former RNC flack I debated on "Crossfire" last Friday evening, and by politicians like Sen. James Inhofe, who enjoys frightening himself and his more gullible constituents. About a month ago, the Oklahoma Republican fretted on "Meet the Press": "Our intelligence system has said that we know that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction -- I believe including nuclear. There's not one person on this panel who would tell you unequivocally that he doesn't have the missile means now, or is nearly getting the missile means to deliver a weapon of mass destruction. And I for one am not willing to wait for that to happen." (A Bible-pounding extremist, Inhofe is among the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who makes that elevated title appear to be an oxymoron.)

May was nearly as agitated the other night: "How do you contain Saddam Hussein, when we know he is getting more and more chemical and biological weapons, and he's probably less than six months from nuclear weapons?" He cited the International Institute for Strategic Studies report on the Iraqi threat as his source. Either he hasn't read that report himself with much care, or he assumes that nobody listening to him ever will; it says no such thing about nuclear weapons and is circumspect on the other topics.

Sen. Inhofe, despite his privileged access to all the data in that report and presumably much more, appears impervious to education -- but the IISS paper ought to calm his fevered fantasies, too. Indeed, anyone concerned about the impending war should read at least its executive summary, which may clarify how Karl Rove's minions are hysterically misstating what are nevertheless deadly serious problems.

Now I happen to live in New York, still regarded as the prime target for al-Qaida, Saddam or any like-minded gang of fascistic mass murderers. Naturally, I worry about such people getting their hands on nuclear materials too -- even though Saddam cannot make a bomb now and has no missile that can deliver one as far as Europe, let alone here. What worries serious people is not what Saddam can do now, but what he and anyone like him may be able to do someday if they can buy or steal plutonium or enriched uranium. They haven't been able to do so yet, but that doesn't mean they never will, especially with this administration's feckless attitude toward proliferation and control of nuclear materials. The American failure to cope with that truly terrifying threat is outlined today in the Times, politely yet disturbingly, by an expert from the Federation of American Scientists. Lots of readers probably skip the wonkish essays on the Op-Ed page; this one must be read. (The FAS Web site is among the very best sources of information on weapons of mass destruction and other national security issues.)

Tbogg's blog
Here's a fine new weblog with amusing observations on topics of contemporary interest. (Sullivan fans, scroll down.)
[2:03 p.m. PDT, Sept. 23, 2002]

Post-election repairs
The victory of Schröder's center-left coalition is narrow indeed, but it doesn't compare too poorly with the electoral triumphs of his critics in the White House and the Congress. (It also demonstrates the political maturity of Green activists there, in contrast to their would-be imitators here.) There are alarming stories that the American president and the German chancellor have refused each other's telephone calls in recent weeks. The Federal Republic needs decent relations with the U.S., of course, but our government also needs cooperation on such critical matters as the ongoing neutralization of al-Qaida, which ran a major base in Hamburg. Extravagant rhetoric at the top can hinder communications on the ground.

Schröder moved quickly toward improved relations by firing the justice minister whose remarks nearly cost him reelection. (Readers disagree on whether she was courageous or misunderstood. To me, likening the U.S. president to Hitler is a foul regardless of "context," and not only because it insults him.) He will have to repair his impaired relations with his European colleagues as well.

What Condoleezza Rice and Ari Fleischer should try to understand, however, is that most world leaders don't approve of the cowboy style in international relations, whether they speak up like Schröder or mutter among themselves. To indict or isolate Germany for disagreement with U.S. policy toward Iraq displays imperial arrogance -- particularly when the Bush administration reserves for itself the right to stand utterly alone on so many international issues, from Kyoto to the International Criminal Court.

Note to Bill Safire and others tempted to insinuate that "anti-Semitism" underlies German skepticism about invading Iraq: The biggest losers in this election were the Free Democrats, who got less than half the vote they expected because of Jew-baiting remarks by the party's vice president.

Sizable correction
Yes, I meant to type billions, not millions, when I mentioned the projected cost of an American war on Iraq last Friday. Bush economic advisor Larry Lindsey's estimate -- and the effects on the federal budget and bond markets -- are outlined in this Reuters dispatch.
[9:04 a.m. PDT, Sept. 23, 2002]

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