Consulting on Iraq

August 28, 2002

PRESIDENT BUSH insists that he doesn't have a war plan for Iraq on his desk. Well then, it must be in his top drawer. How else to explain the trumpeting by top White House officials of the need to act decisively against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, even as prominent Republicans -- most recently, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III -- call on the president to exercise caution?

Vice President Dick Cheney is the latest administration heavyweight to promote the case for a pre-emptive strike against Baghdad. Mr. Cheney's address to a veterans group focused on Iraq's past aggressions to justify military action, rather than presenting a detailed case of why Mr. Hussein poses a threat now. The vice president, however, chose to precisely describe the dangers posed by the regime's "ongoing biological and chemical weapons program." A chilling scenario -- and all the more reason for the White House to explain itself with facts and not fears.

In a matter as grave as sending American troops to war, a war in which the United States may lack the moral, tactical and financial support of allies, Mr. Bush must not act unilaterally. Americans deserve a voice in this decision, and members of Congress are the people's representatives.

To act without consultation disregards the moral imperative at play here.

In speaking out on the Iraq question this week, Mr. Baker acknowledged that a "regime change" in Baghdad could occur only through military occupation. But he advised the president to push first for a return of United Nations weapons inspections under an "anytime, anywhere" proviso. If Iraq balks, America can unleash its military might with moral certainty and, one would hope, ally support.

Mr. Baker recognized that the support of the American public is "a necessary prerequisite for any successful foreign policy."

Mr. Bush has said repeatedly that he will consult members of Congress. If the White House decides America should go it alone, the president needs to have Congress and the country behind him -- before, not after, the first attack planes are airborne.

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