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06.02.2003

Bush And Iraq

They make a desolation and call it peace.

Even Nicholas Kristof thinks the Bush regime lied to us about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Bush says his WMD claims are vindicated because we found a suspiciously clean trailer, free of any biological agents.

It boggles my mind that two years after weapons-grade anthrax was actually used to kill Americans, we are wasting our time in a Third World country, chasing some kind of mirage.

Many people were against the idea of an Iraq invasion on any grounds. But I am especially angry because you could have sold me on this war. I would have supported a war in Iraq on the grounds of deposing a tyrant. The mass graves turning up in Iraq are for real, and who knows how long Hussein would have lived, and how macabre he would have grown in his old age. I'm Polish, for crying out loud. Poles don't require much convincing about the evils of dictatorship or the sin of failing to act against it.

But the war was sold to us as the response to an immediate and catastrophic threat:

Saddam Hussein has never accounted for vast amounts of chemical weaponry: 550 artillery shells with mustard, 30,000 empty munitions and enough precursors to increase his stockpile to as much as 500 tons of chemical agents. If we consider just one category of missing weaponry--6,500 bombs from the Iran-Iraq war--UNMOVIC says the amount of chemical agent in them would be in the order of 1,000 tons. These quantities of chemical weapons are now unaccounted for.

(That's from the Powell speech to the UN).

There are chemical weapons in Iraq that have been found, but no one mentions them. I'm talking about the depleted uranium ammuntion used in this war, as it was in the Gulf War. Depleted uranium (or DU) is widely used in armor-piercing shells. The metal is so hard and dense that it will punch right through heavy steel plate, and is highly valued for that reason. As an additional bonus, it burns in the air, like magnesium.

The resulting uranium oxide smoke, however, is highly toxic and very persistent. Uranium is an alpha emitter with a half life of over four billion years. Outside the body, and in metal form, it is relatively harmless. Alpha particles do not penetrate far, and the outermost layer of the epidermis is enough to stop alpha radiation from penetrating to living tissue. But if an alpha emitter gets in the lungs, it will have terrible long-term effects. Plutonium dust, for example, is one of the most toxic substances known for this very reason. The alpha radiation will eventually cause lung cancer.

On top of the radiological effects, uranium is a heavy metal and has its own toxic chemical effects at very low concentrations.

What makes things worse in Iraq is that Arabs smoke like chimneys. That hugely magnifies the threat, since smoking is one of the most effective ways of getting environmental pollutants into your lungs in the first place, and destroys their limited ability to get the stuff out.

There is ample evidence that DU from the last war has caused a great uptick in cancer deaths in Iraq, and may be responsible for some of the illnesses associated with Gulf War syndrome. But that hasn't stopped the weapon from being used this time around.

Again, it may be the case that deposing Saddam Hussein was worth poisoning part of Iraq. Certainly there are wars where devastation is a necessary price. But that's not a debate we were allowed to have. And the fact that our whole destructive war was based on lies won't have any consequences. Paul Krugman nails it in his latest column:

Each time the administration comes up with another whopper, partisan supporters — a group that includes a large segment of the news media — obediently insist that black is white and up is down. Meanwhile the "liberal" media report only that some people say that black is black and up is up. And some Democratic politicians offer the administration invaluable cover by making excuses and playing down the extent of the lies.

For the last six months, I've felt like I'm living in some kind of political Bizarro World. I've always accepted the fact that some people have much different political beliefs from me, and that sometimes I will be in the minority. When Bush was declared the winner in Florida, and everyone in the media was gushing on about how the Bush presidency would have to be uniquely conciliatority and moderate, given Bush's loss of the popular vote, I even had the presence of mind to realize that that was nonsense.

But I never would have believed that a Republican administration could run huge deficits, invade a foreign country on grounds that later proved to be baseless, give multiple tax cuts to the very richest, and do so without any debate and with minimal dissent. Maybe you think I'm misstating the facts, and those policies are all the true and best way to run the country. But isn't it weird that there isn't any debate? Am I just losing my mind?

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