Joe Conason's Journal

Why aren't Blair and Bush concerned about Saddam's nuclear threat anymore?

Published March 13, 2003 4:23PM (EST)

The weed-wacker war
Going over Tony Blair's proposed conditions for the prevention of war with Iraq, I was troubled by the sense of something missing. At a glance, the list seemed to include everything and more -- from interviews with Iraqi scientists in Cyprus to the public destruction of any remaining chemical and biological weapons and illegal missiles. The Iraqis would have to account for that awesomely threatening drone aircraft (which turns out to be an impoverished Iraqi version of a model airplane, christened the "Weed Wacker" by the wiseguy Western journalists who inspected it yesterday). The Blair demands were nothing if not comprehensive, possibly even a bit over the top. Is it really imperative, after all, for Saddam to make a televised confession "in Arabic" to avoid war?

The Brits have a flair for drama, but they do seem slightly forgetful. Why did the prime minister leave the subject of nuclear weapons off his list? Wasn't Saddam's bomb the main reason we were rushing to war in the first place? Didn't British intelligence tell us that the Iraqis were trying to buy uranium from the government of Niger? The forged document "proving" that allegation is now reportedly under investigation by the FBI. Rooting out this fraud must surely be among John Ashcroft's top priorities, perhaps even higher up than arresting hookers in New Orleans.

That missing nuke question has been bothering me ever since Bush's press conference, where he too neglected to mention Saddam's atomic threat. Aren't Bush and Blair worried about the Iraqi nuclear program anymore? Or are they silently acknowledging that Mohammed ElBaradei is correct, and that no such program exists? (Incidentally, the best response to the scripted presidential press event is Michael Crowley's cover story in this week's New York Observer.)

Inhofe redefines "free enterprise"
Douglas Jehl investigates the sweetheart land deal awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers to an Oklahoma developer in today's New York Times. Here's the short version: Developer (and lobbyist) Ronald Howell raises thousands of dollars for Sen. James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and new chairman of the Senate's committee on environment and public works; Inhofe writes letters urging the Army Corps to give Howell a 50-year lease on lakefront land owned by the corps, without paying a dime of rent.

In the parlance of right-wing extremists like Inhofe, this process is called "free enterprise." The Republican donor gets valuable public property for free, and opens a profitable enterprise. (And the taxpayers get shafted.) Inhofe is a strong contender for worst member of the Senate, a highly competitive title. He's the kind of pious hypocrite who likes to boast about consulting his "best friend" Jesus on issues of public policy. I haven't found the verse in the New Testament that instructs us to corruptly reward campaign contributors, but I'm still looking.
[8:44 a.m. PST, March 13, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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