Justifying war

November 26, 1990

Of all the mixed messages President Bush has sent to justify preparing for war against Iraq, none is more compelling than the most recent: Nuclear capability may be within the grasp of Saddam Hussein. None of the other reasons -- deterring aggression, protecting oil flow, or (most ludicrous of all) saving American jobs -- could be worth incalculable loss of life when the goals undoubtedly would be accomplished in time if the international pressure is kept on Iraq.

But Saddam Hussein equipped with nuclear weapons would change everything, and obviously he should be stopped if there is any possible way. The question is, does the stated policy of the administration achieve this? The president continues to maintain, even after disclosing the nuclear threat, that war can be avoided if only Saddam will withdraw from Kuwait.

Look it it from Saddam's perspective: If he is indeed on the verge of nuclear capability, common sense would dictate that he withdraw at once. That would presumably mollify Bush. He could then proceed apace with his nuclear development, then seize Kuwait again once his atomic arsenal is in place. The only way to destroy that capability is to destroy Saddam, and set up what would amount to a colonial government in Iraq.

And then we would be left with the question, what countries may and may not possess nuclear weapons. There are already five countries known to possess them. But what about the others? What about South Africa, Brazil, Pakistan, or Israel? What if we discover that, say, Assad of Syria were on the verge of a nuclear breakthrough? Do they have a right to possess nuclear weapons if Iraq does not? On what basis do we decide which countries may or may not possess the weapons?

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