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02/12/2003 Entry: "How many battalions has the Pope?"

"France, Germany, Russia, China, what do they know? They're spineless, cynical, self-interested, callow, envious and resentful. NATO? Who needs it? Pope John Paul? What's his angle? War, war, war. To the victor belong the spoils. No more quibbling with the Saudis and the Turks. We can change Iraq's name to the Arab Occupied Territories. The U.S. will have a West Bank of its own, complete with oil wells." A War of Convenience, Gene Lyons, February 12, 2003

Gene Lyons February 12, 2003

A War of Convenience

War fever, catch it. That's the Washington theme of the week. Following Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council regarding Saddam Hussein's many sins, the majority of the capital's political class pronounced itself overwhelmed by evidence of the Iraqi dictator's "weapons of mass destruction," or WMDs, as the trendiest pundits style them.

The allegedly "liberal" Washington Post responded editorially with a one-word headline. "Irrefutable." Columnist Mary McGrory announced that despite being almost a pacifist by inclination, "I'm Persuaded," mostly by what she described as Powell's unimpeachable integrity. Joining the stampede was New York Times columnist Bill Keller, who noted that "The I-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club includes op-ed regulars at this newspaper and The Washington Post, the editors of The New Yorker, The New Republic and Slate, columnists in Time and Newsweek."

If Keller's list was more than a little bit selective--dissenters do remain, including prominent conservatives like Robert Novak--it was nevertheless clear that many pundits and fence-sitting politicians had decided not to let the war train leave the station without them. Further resistance was deemed futile, and potentially career-threatening. Anybody unpersuaded of the necessity of conquering Iraq, some converts hinted, had to be either stupid or acting in bad faith.

Little effort was expended wondering how and why the Bush administration, following upon the impressive diplomatic feat of uniting the U.N. Security Council behind a unanimous 15-0 vote in favor of resolution 1441, had managed in just three months to convert much of the same body into dissenters against President Junior's excellent plan to establish an imperial outpost on the Persian Gulf.

France, Germany, Russia, China, what do they know? They're spineless, cynical, self-interested, callow, envious and resentful. NATO? Who needs it? Pope John Paul? What's his angle? War, war, war. To the victor belong the spoils. No more quibbling with the Saudis and the Turks. We can change Iraq's name to the Arab Occupied Territories. The U.S. will have a West Bank of its own, complete with oil wells.

To skeptics who remember "intelligence" hoaxes of past decades, however, it wasn't clear that Powell's presentation answered any of the objections his own surrogates like former Bush I national security advisor Brent Scowcroft have put forward for months. Nor did he confront the most basic objection put forward by the French and the Russians: Why now? What's the big hurry? Has Saddam massed troops near the Turkish border? Do satellite photos show ICBMs being moved into place to launch against Tel Aviv? No to both.

For that matter, isn't the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" more than a bit disingenuous? Nuclear weapons, which even Powell made clear the Iraqi dictator can only daydream about, are infinitely more dangerous than the antiquated and much-diminished supply of nerve gas he may be hiding. Chemical weapons don't work when it rains or the wind blows. The only time Saddam used poison gas weapons the Reagan administration helped him acquire was against Iran, a nation with no capacity to escalate to the next level of insanity.

To any skeptic with a computer modem, moreover, it became quite clear why Powell's speech failed to convert few at the U.N. Even "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert reminded Powell of doctored intelligence photos during the Gulf War showing 250,000 Iraqi troops massed on the Saudi border which the St. Petersburg Times proved to be non-existent.

Key parts of Powell's presentation were dubious on their face. That alleged al Qaeda base in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq? If it's what Powell says, why hasn't it been bombed to smithereens? British and U.S. jets have been conducting sorties in the no-fly zone for months. Because it's a dusty outpost not worth bombing reporters for The Observer who visited the place quickly saw.

The mobile bio-war death labs? Please. Even if Hans Blix hadn't told The Guardian that U.S. tips had guided inspectors to mobile food inspection facilities, anybody who's dodged herds of camels, goats and sheep and maniacal drivers on bumpy Middle Eastern highways had to laugh. Bio-war experts told Newsweek the idea was preposterous. "U.S. intelligence," it reported "after years of looking for them, has never found even one."

Then there was the embarrassing fact that key elements of a British intelligence document cited by Powell turned out to have been plagiarized from magazine articles and a California grad student's M.A. thesis based upon 12 year old evidence.

The choice, after all, isn't between war and nothing. It's between war and squeezing Iraq through the inspections process to disarm. Already, Saddam's begun haggling like a carpet merchant in a Middle Eastern bazaar, finding "lost" documents, yielding on the issue of U-2 flights.

Too late. The crucial thing about Powell's speech wasn't evidence or logic, but who gave it. The Secretary of State has surrendered to the hawks. War it is. President Junior's "credibility" demands it.

 

 

 

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