A must-have debate

August 01, 2002

THE EXPERTS, commentators and analysts who are trumpeting the inevitability of a U.S. attack on Iraq should quit the ballyhooing and demand a detailed accounting of why America must go to war against Saddam Hussein.

That's the question that needs an answer. Not when and how -- but why?

George W. Bush has been running on about the Iraqi dictator's brutal regime and his menacing penchant for biological and chemical weapons since before he moved into the White House. His rhetoric on Iraq intensified after Arab terrorists turned American jetliners into weapons of mass destruction on Sept. 11.

Iraq, you may recall, is among the anchors of Mr. Bush's "axis of evil." And there's no doubt that Mr. Hussein is a maniacal despot with a documented record of deadly pursuits. The Kurds in northern Iraq, victims of Hussein-ordered chemical assaults in the 1980s, can attest to that fact. So, too, can the United Nations weapons inspectors who diligently tracked Mr. Hussein's hidden weapons sites.

But the recent reports of Pentagon plans to invade Iraq have overtaken the discussion that must first take place. The administration has not adequately explained the case for a military assault on Iraq -- the reasons for it and the consequences.

Consider how Florida Sen. Bob Graham, the chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, who ostensibly should be privy to key information, characterized the extent of Iraq's weapons buildup: uncertain.

The credibility of America's intelligence operation has been assailed since Osama bin Laden's team of terrorists struck this country last fall. Can Americans be any more certain of the accuracy of the intelligence on which the White House relies for an Iraqi attack? And if the United States succeeds in ousting Saddam Hussein, then what?

The infighting among Iraqi opposition leaders and U.S. reluctance to engage in the rebuilding of Afghanistan don't bode well for a post-Hussein Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds remember well how the administration of another George Bush failed to back them up when they revolted after the Persian Gulf war, and thousands died.

The hard-liners in Mr. Bush's circle are having their say. That doesn't mean they should have their way.

The circumstances surrounding America's last foray into Iraq were completely different from those of today. President Bush has an obligation -- indeed, a moral responsibility -- to explain fully his plan of action and his vision for Iraq's future. Otherwise, a decision to advance on Baghdad may be colored by a son's eagerness to finish the job many say his father failed to do.

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