Listen up, Mr. President

August 20, 2002

DO PRESIDENT Bush's policy advisers really believe the more they repeat the phrase "Saddam Hussein must go" the more likely it will happen? They keep repeating the president's mantra of "regime change" even as a cross-section of influential voices in the country caution against a preemptive strike to oust the Iraqi dictator. Is anyone listening?

The latest Bush insider to promote the case for a war against Iraq is national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who articulated the pro-strike position in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation. (The British public opposes any involvement in a United States-led attack on Iraq.) Her remarks, which the BBC released last week, followed a series of commentaries from foreign affairs heavyweights - former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser under both Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush - and comments from leading Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Each, in his own way, warned President Bush of the consequences of moving ahead with plans to topple Mr. Hussein without support from U.S. allies, a large military force and a post-war commitment to rebuild Iraq. So far, the administration has not lined up any of those prerequisites.

No one disputes the fact that the international community would be better off without Saddam Hussein in power. But, as The Sun has said before, the administration has not made a compelling case for moving against him now - or in the near future.

The absence of a cogent argument suggests that leading administration officials are split on the issue, and neither side has won over the president.

Mr. Scowcroft insists that an attack against Iraq would undermine U.S. efforts to combat international terrorism, the purveyors of which are proving difficult to overtake. Is the U.S. military equipped to do battle on both fronts?

A preemptive strike also raises issues beyond the need for a public debate in this country. Mr. Kissinger points out the illegality of a preemptive strike under international law.

If the United States attacks Iraq simply because it doesn't have "the luxury of doing nothing," as Ms. Rice puts it, then what prevents other nations from following the same course when they feel threatened? India and Pakistan, nuclear powers with a longstanding dispute over Kashmir, would spark justifable international panic if they employed the same logic.

If the Iraqi regime poses a unique threat to the United States and its allies, one that warrants a break with the conventions of modern warfare, then now is the time for the administration to prove it.

But if that case can't be made, Mr. Bush and his advisers will be going it alone - both at home and abroad. It's difficult to see how that would serve anyone's interests.

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