In a speech intended to frighten the American people into supporting a war, the president Monday again trotted out his grim depiction of Saddam Hussein as a terrifying boogeyman haunting the world. However, a CIA report released late last week and designed to bolster Bush's case for preemptive invasion instead provided clear evidence that Iraq poses less of a threat to the world than at any other time in the past decade.
In its report, the CIA concludes that years of U.N. inspections combined with U.S. and British bombing of selected targets have left Iraq far weaker militarily than in the 1980s, when it was supported in its war against Iran by the United States.
The CIA report also concedes that the agency has no evidence that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons, although it lamely attempts to put the worst spin on that embarrassing fact: "Although Saddam probably does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make any, he remains intent on acquiring them."
Of course, that is a statement about intent, not capability, and one that can be made about dozens of the world's nations, many of them run by dictators as brutal as Saddam.
None of the unstable nations already possessing deliverable nuclear weapons are targets of Bush's wrath. And in the case of the military dictatorship of Pakistan, which at some point is likely to use such weapons in a war with India, we have even eliminated the sanctions imposed as punishment for developing those nuclear arms.
More important than its psychoanalyzing of Iraq's megalomaniacal leader is the CIA's concession that the much-maligned inspections done by teams of experts organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency actually worked quite well: "More than 10 years of sanctions and the loss of much of Iraq's physical nuclear infrastructure under IAEA oversight have not diminished Saddam's interest in acquiring or developing nuclear weapons."
Similarly, the report concludes that Iraq's chemical weapons "capability was reduced during the UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission) inspections and is probably more limited now than it was at the time of the Gulf War."
The report also notes that all cases of documented use of chemical weapons by Iraq occurred on or before March 1988, primarily against Iranian troops in a war covertly supported by the United States, and that neither chemical nor biological weapons were used against the United States during or after the Gulf War.
So what we have here is our top intelligence agency endorsing the past success of a peaceful, enforceable disarmament technique that our allies and the United Nations support, while our president and his Cabinet repeatedly belittle it as a sham.
In fact, if the CIA is to be believed, the inspections that were broken off four years ago amid bombing of Iraq by the United States and its allies should be reinstated immediately, even ahead of a tougher U.N. resolution.
If Iraq thwarts the resumption of effective inspections, the CIA report also makes obvious that continued airstrikes targeting suspected armaments facilities would make far more sense than a costly, risky full-fledged invasion.
"UNSCOM inspection activities and coalition military strikes destroyed most of (Iraq's) prohibited ballistic missiles and some Gulf War-era chemical and biological munitions," the CIA report says, but "Iraq still has a small force of extended-range Scud-variant missiles, chemical precursors, biological seed stock, and thousands of munitions suitable for chemical and biological agents."
The report claims that Iraq may have converted some of its "legitimate vaccine and biopesticide plants to biological warfare." But since the CIA report provides maps pinpointing suspect Iraqi weapons sites, they could easily be taken out short of the antiseptic-sounding "regime change" the Bush administration is aching to achieve.
In truth, the invasion is required not to meet a pressing threat to our security but rather to meet the threat to GOP control of Congress posed by a sagging U.S. economy and a stock market that has wiped out the savings of many Americans. That and the pent-up desire of frustrated wannabe imperialists among top Bush advisors to find a way to use our high-tech weaponry to micromanage the world. The CIA report makes it clear there is no plausible national security reason for pushing for war with Iraq at this time, other than the ill-advised imperial goal of directly controlling the world's oil supplies.
That's why the president in his speech Monday was reduced to scaring Americans with more tales of Hussein the Boogeyman.