WHAT WE THINK
January 16, 2004 | Page 3
SO WHAT if the Bush administration plotted war against Iraq before September 11? All's well that ends well. That's the line of conservative commentators who celebrate a flurry of recent concessions to Washington: the elimination of weapons of mass destruction by Libya; agreements by Iran and North Korea to inspection of their nuclear programs; Syria's offer of peace talks with Israel; and Pakistan's cutoff of aid to Islamist guerillas fighting India.
All this, they say, is the fruit of the U.S. conquest of Iraq. "[T]aken together, this phased array of fallout to our decision to lead the world's war against terror makes the case that what we have been doing is strategically sound as well as morally right," wrote conservative New York Times columnist William Safire.
This triumphalism is part of the White House response to Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who spilled the beans that George W. Bush was plotting the invasion and occupation of Iraq from the opening days of his administration.
And it's a handy, after-the-fact justification for the Iraq war now that weapons inspector David Kay has begun pulling his team out of Iraq with no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell finally admitted this month that he'd seen no "smoking gun" evidence of Iraqi ties to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
Bush's would-be Democratic presidential challengers tried to use O'Neill's disclosures to score points against him. Yet far from challenging Bush's attempts to bully various nations into weapons inspections, they promised to outdo him.
Howard Dean, the supposed antiwar candidate, bashed Bush for failing to take seriously a supposed threat from North Korea. And if anyone still has illusions that Dean is carrying a peace banner, he appointed as his top foreign policy adviser Leon Feurth, a former national security staffer for Vice President Al Gore who was known as supporter of strangling Iraq with sanctions. In November 2002, Feurth wrote that if it came to war, the U.S. should "destroy the Iraqi regime, root and branch."
All the leading Democratic candidates embrace gunboat diplomacy. They just disagree with Bush about where and when to pull the trigger. Nevertheless, many opponents of war and occupation in Iraq will see Libya's abandonment of its weapons of mass destruction and inspections in Iran and North Korea as a positive development.
After all, isn't disarmament always a good thing, especially where such deadly weapons are involved? But Washington's demands for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in other countries go hand-in-hand with a massive buildup of its already overwhelming military force--even battlefield nuclear weapons which are now in development in the U.S.
Its push to disarm some countries is matched by efforts to arm others whenever and wherever it suited U.S. interests. If Saddam Hussein ever had weapons of mass destruction, for example, it is because the U.S. armed Iraq during its 1980s war against Iran.
Pakistan developed nuclear weapons in the 1980s with the tolerance of the U.S., which wanted that country's support in aiding Islamist fighters in Russian-occupied Afghanistan. And don't expect Washington to curb the country in the Middle East with biggest stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction--its close ally, Israel.
The deal with Libya highlights Washington's cynicism. Libya has agreed to pay compensation for victims of the 1988 Lockerbie airline bombing as a condition of ending sanctions.
Yet the U.S. originally claimed that Syria was responsible for the bombing--but targeted Libya after Syria agreed to side with the U.S. in the 1991 Gulf War. Syria's reward was control of Lebanon--while Libya bore the brunt of sanctions. Libya has just 5 million people and no real weapons program to speak of--but the oil-rich country is broke from international pressure, so it gave in.
In North Korea, the agreement to allow inspections could have come months ago in exchange for some economic aid. But the Bush administration first pushed the region toward a nuclear conflict with its confrontational policy--putting millions of lives at risk.
All this isn't about making the world safer, but consolidating U.S. economic and political power--and using American military muscle to do it.