War drama moves toward final act

Georgie Anne Geyer, Universal Press Syndicate. Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist based in Washington, D.C

September 27, 2002

WASHINGTON -- So now we observe the next scenes in the strange drama that seems to speed toward its last act, and once again the promise does not coincide with reality. This week was supposed to have marked a turning point, as Tony Blair proffered his government's indictment of Saddam Hussein and Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction--but once again, there was no turning point.

The long-awaited dossier on Baghdad from Britain's Labor Party did confirm the threat of the Iraqi dictator and his adoration of heinous weaponry (as if we still needed to be convinced of that). It asserted that he has up to 20 al-Hussein missiles capable of carrying chemical or biological warheads as far as Cyprus and Israel and that, in some cases, warheads could be dispatched within 45 minutes (which is obviously terrifying).

London presented, in its words, an "overwhelming case" against Hussein; but that is not what the disturbing discussion here about going to war with Hussein--tomorrow--is all about.

Everybody is against Saddam Hussein. The question for serious people is what to do--rationally and effectively--to replace him without setting the entire Middle East aflame, and perhaps America as well.

As the Financial Times, one of the most fair-minded of newspapers, editorialized immediately after the Blair report: "The 50-page document offers no compelling evidence that immediate action is needed. Nor does it present a strong argument against a policy of enhanced containment. Its strongest impact might be in reinforcing the case for a United Nations resolution that requires aggressive inspections. ... The assessment of Iraq's nuclear capability is more in line with the recent independent analysis by the International Institute for Strategic Studies than with the alarmist rhetoric that has periodically emerged from London and Washington."

The arguments over going to war with Iraq are broken down into two groups.

The first is found in the administration, with its increasing and almost hysterical persistence that war must be waged immediately and at almost any cost.

The second is the prudent group of diplomats and analysts who insist that the situation is so serious that it must be viewed cautiously, both in terms of Hussein's intentions and our capacities.

Between the two is suspended one question: Is Saddam Hussein such an imminent menace to America and the West that we must act immediately?

If he is, argues the administration, then it must be because he has or will soon have--and intends to use--nuclear weapons.

Yet, in every serious analysis, from President Bush's speech at the UN two weeks ago, to the British prime minister's dossier this week, to the report several weeks ago by the IISS in London, there is a clear omission of any warning that nuclear weapons are in his hands or are about to become an immediate danger.

So, one has to wonder, where did all of the eerie "Go to Iraq!" mania gripping this city really start?

The Guardian in London recently put in place one piece of the puzzle with several long articles by reporter Brian Whitaker, in which he revealed a paper published (publicly) in 1996 by an Israeli think-tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, titled "A Clear Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm."

When it was issued, it was intended as a political blueprint for the then-incoming right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu. To many readers' amazement, it has turned out to be exactly the blueprint for the Iraq policy of the Bush administration!

Reporter Whitaker quoted the plan by which Israel would "shape its strategic environment," beginning with the removal of Saddam Hussein and the installation of a monarchy in Baghdad related to the Jordanian Hashemite kingdom, which ruled Iraq briefly in the middle of the 20th Century. He quoted the paper further: "With Saddam out of the way ... Jordan and Turkey would form an axis along with Israel to weaken and roll back Syria. ... Israel will not only contain its foes, it will transcend them."

And to succeed, Israel would have to win broad American support for these new policies using language "familiar to the Americans by tapping into themes of American administrations during the Cold War, which apply well to Israel."

Now such a policy paper would generally be of little interest. But it is of interest today because the leader of the "prominent opinion-makers" who wrote the paper was Richard Perle, and only a few of the other writers were Douglas Feith and John Bolton, all of whom are now in pivotal positions in the Bush administration and in crucial positions in urging a war against Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney has also been involved with this group.

In fact, as has been reported by Newsweek and in a recent "Frontline" TV show, only a day after Sept.11, in high-level meetings of President Bush and his inner circle, when nobody else was thinking about Iraq at all, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the president that now was the time to add taking out Saddam Hussein to the war against terrorism. Secretary Wolfowitz is also closely involved with the group that wrote the paper.

It would be simple to say that this is the policy of the right wing in Israel and, in fact, to some degree it is--the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Zalman Shoval, confirmed to me on a trip here recently that it was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policy to overthrow Saddam Hussein and thus use that pressure against Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization--but that is in truth only part of the picture.

Most of the "Get Iraq!" grouping here are zealous former anti-Cold War fighters. They are not at all cautious, traditional conservatives but rather "neoconservatives"--former liberal Democrats who broke with the party over communism in the 1970s and '80s. They errantly believe that, through their positions in the Reagan administration, it was they and not the decades-long policy of containment and deterrence that "won the Cold War," and they see Iraq as the next target in the long struggle against totalitarianism. The right wing in Israel fits in nicely.

All of them are zealots and, from their writings and posturings, seem to believe in the efficacy of only the pure use of force. There is more than a whiff of the fires of Armageddon about them.

We must be immensely careful as Americans in buying this story and these pressures that are pushing us so blithely to a strange and ominous war. It is a tale so complex and dangerous that one searches American history for its parallel.



Copyright 2002, Chicago Tribune

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