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02.16.2003

False Pretenses

I don't much like to write about politics, but it's a day for strong feelings about the impending war.

So here is my own position: I'm pissed off at being treated like an idiot.

Specifically, I'm pissed off at being asked to believe that the most imminent threat to our safety, in an age of militant religious Islamic terrorism, is a third-rate secularist dictator whose ass we have already kicked from here to Sunday.

To hear the Bush cabinet tell it, Iraq is now a greater and more imminent danger than North Korea, a country that actually has nuclear weapons and is busy making more, a country that will sell weapons to any buyer who can pony up the cash. More importantly, a country that now has an untested ballistic missle capable of hitting the West Coast.

And it's more of a threat than radical elements in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed radical Islamic state now likely to be harboring Osama Bin Laden, a state where militant Wahabbism is on the rise, and where one coup separates al-Qaeda sympathizers from an actual arsenal of tested nuclear weapons. A state whose head nuclear scientist has spent many months working in North Korea, in what is presumed to be an exchange of missile technology for nuclear expertise.

Not only is Iraq supposed to be more of a threat, but we're told that it is such an immediate threat that we must act right now, without taking the time to build United Nations support, even if we could easily build that support by agreeing to a harmless (if ineffective) extension of the current inspection effort.

Not only that, but we're told that countries opposing our immediate (and unprecedented) invasion of Iraq are doing so out of cravenness and cowardice, motivated by a mix of anti-Americanism, greed, and a historical fondness for surrendering to evil dictators. No matter that those countries are our closest allies and trading partners.

The truth is, Iraq is nothing compared to the real threat we face from nuclear proliferators and al-Qaeda. The Iraqi nuclear program is completely moribund (even the Bush administration has had to concede this), and the chemical and biological weapons that Iraq is hiding are ones that they have been successfully deterred from using (against Americans and Israel), even when under massive attack during the Gulf War. Our own CIA estimates that the Iraqi regime would only use those weapons if it were convinced that it had no hope of survival, which is what we're setting up for ourselves right now.

The purported ties between Iraq and terrorism are so insignificant compared to the documented ties between al-Qaeda and groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and even South America, as to be laughable. Someone got medical treatment in Baghdad. Some group set up shop in northern Iraq - in Kurdish-controlled territory.

Above all, the timing is not this urgent. More urgent things are happening elsewhere. The real parallel with the world's reluctance to attack Iraq isn't Chamberlain appeasing Hitler. The parallel is if in 1939 we insisted on invading Spain to save the world from Franco.

Al-Qaeda is an international network of terrorists that would seem to be out of some second-rate Bond movie if it weren't real. They are willing to die as long as they take the maximum number of infidels with them. North Korea is regime so divorced from reality that it is officially ruled by a dead man. Pakistan is unstable and barely under the control of its own military. And we're invading Iraq.

I'm not above a little war-mongering myself. Saddam Hussein is an evil man. He is a danger to regional stability. I believe that United Nations resolutions mean nothing unless we show ourselves ready to back them by force. Sometimes a country under sanctions will call our bluff, and we need to be ready to fight.

But we should do it for honest reasons. Our government should not have to resort to scare-mongering and bullshit, trying to convince me that Al-Qaeda and North Korea are nothing compared to the threat posed by some pissant Stalin wannabe.

I don't know why Bush wants this war so much. I don't know why he couldn't be bothered to go through the simple motions of garnering international support, something that would have made his diplomatic position much stronger. I don't know why he has maneuvered the situation to make it impossible for us not to fight Iraq without a great loss of face. I don't know why he has allowed North Korea to reach a point where they have a nuclear deterrent against our own cities, or why he has decided to gratuitously alienate most of Europe with bombast and stupid taunting.

I do know that we should be able to understand our own country's foreign policy without having to psychoanalyze the Executive Branch. If immediate war with Iraq, without UN support, is in our national interest, then it should be possible to articulate that in a convincing and forceful way without resorting to sophistry. But instead we have scare-mongering from the party in power, and a complete abdication of duty on the part of the Democratic opposition, who have failed to either articulate a credible defense of this stupid war, or go on the record against it.

My only consolation is that the Iraqi people will be rid of a horrible burden.

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