Joe Conason's Journal

What is hollower: The missile shells discovered in Iraq, or the rhetoric of the war hawks?


Salon Staff
January 17, 2003 9:40PM (UTC)

Hollow shells
On the eve of tomorrow's antiwar demonstrations, where stupid things will be duly uttered and reported, it is worth examining the current state of the pro-war argument as well. For fervent bellicosity, usually available on short notice, one can always turn to Andrew Sullivan (scroll down). Having seen pictures of 11 empty missile shells that the U.N. inspectors found at Ukaider ammunition depot, he's really had it. If those "chemical warheads" weren't listed in the weapons declaration provided to the Security Council by Baghdad, then it's war.

"There can be no further excuses," Sully declares. "Saddam had one absolutely last chance and he lied. If we do not go to war now, then Bush, in turn, will have been shown to have lied in his countless statements declaring zero tolerance for future violations."

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Let's play that back again: We have to go to war, presumably within the next month or two, because the Iraqis didn't list a dozen shells that were lying around in an ammo dump. It may be difficult to convince our traditional allies -- including the British -- to line up behind a policy that sounds so dangerously loony.

The discovery of those missile shells exposes a more serious flaw in the reasoning of the superhawks. For months they have derided the inspectors as patsies for Saddam, incapable of finding anything of significance that the Iraqis wish to conceal. But if the shells found at Ukaider are "troubling and serious," as Ari Fleischer said at the White House today, then the inspectors are indeed performing their job. Wouldn't that indicate they deserve more time to continue their task. And if those shells are not significant, then why on earth would their discovery mandate a declaration of war?

The question of whether to extend the writ of Hans Blix and Mohammed el-Baradei and their inspection crews is creating real friction between the U.S. and its allies. Both Blair and Chirac have made a point of publicly supporting Blix -- against the White House -- during the past few days. Blix and el-Baradei are proving that war isn't the only and immediate solution to the undeniable problem posed by Saddam Hussein. The notion that we must go to war immediately because the inspectors are succeeding suggests that the arguments of the hawks are as hollow as those missile shells.
[4:52 p.m. PST, Jan. 17, 2003]

Hereditary illness
The ideology that seeks to abolish the estate tax and frets more about affirmative action than elite privilege could be called "legacy conservatism." Its corrupting tendency is revealed in the appointments of the Bush administration and the Republican leadership, whose record of nepotism is unequaled in recent decades. Aging conservatives can still stir themselves to fury when they recall JFK's appointment of his younger brother as attorney general, but the right seems perfectly contented with Frank Murkowski bequeathing his Alaska Senate seat to his daughter. And don't forget Janet Rehnquist, the eccentric daughter of the chief justice whose antics as an inspector general in the Department of Health and Human Services are currently under investigation. If the gun-wielding Rehnquist's responsibilities weren't so serious (including the exposure of medical insurance fraud), her recent job history would be worthy of "Saturday Night Live."

Law professor Jonathan Turley admits he has neither the time nor the space to list every nepotistic Bush appointee in the bureaucracy and judiciary, but he mentions quite a few in this neglected Los Angeles Times column.
[10:52 a.m. PST, Jan. 17, 2003]

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