In Bush we trust?

Scott Laderman

Do you trust George W. Bush? It’s a simple question, really. It’s also not just rhetorical.

According to a report in The New York Times, the White House believes that much of its case for escalating the U.S. war against Iraq will rely on “asking Americans to place blind faith in the administration.” As one senior official disclosed, “It really comes down to whether or not the country trusts President Bush’s judgment, knowing that he knows a lot more than the country knows.”

Let’s start with the obvious: Does Bush in fact know a lot more than you and me? (And I’m not talking here about how to properly construct a sentence or correctly identify the political leadership of Canada.)

Time and again we have been told by the president and those speaking on his behalf that “a mountain of evidence” exists, confirming Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. The evidence is “persuasive and overwhelming.” Tony Blair, reportedly acting at the behest of the Bush administration, announced last September, even insisting that Iraq was capable at that time of launching chemical and biological weapons with a mere 45 minutes notice.

A few months earlier Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was singing the same tune. “They have them, and they continue to develop them, and they have weaponized chemical weapons,” he declared. “They’ve had an active program to develop nuclear weapons. It’s also clear that they are actively developing biological weapons. I don’t know what other kinds of weapons would fall under the rubric of weapons of mass destruction, but if there are more, I suspect they’re working on them, as well.”

So does this “persuasive and overwhelming” evidence actually exist? Thus far the United Nations has found no biological or chemical agents to substantiate the hawks’ claims. Faced with this quandary, the Bush administration conceded over the weekend that it was having difficulty presenting its case against Iraq. The major problem, officials admitted, is that proof of Iraq’s weapons stockpiles is “heavily inferential and circumstantial.” In other words, the White House has no conclusive evidence to support its earlier assertions. When Iraq at one point denied its present weapons capability, Rumsfeld – sounding almost like a third grader – retorted, “If you want to know a world-class liar, it’s Saddam Hussein.” How, then, should we characterize Rumsfeld and his ilk?

Another question: Does Iraq present a threat to the United States? Employing a rich arsenal of ominous soundbites – it is Hussein’s “intention to continue his murderous ways” and his “militaristic intentions,” for example – the administration’s message, repeated incessantly, has been unmistakable. But is it true?

Not according to the CIA. In a closed congressional hearing on Oct. 2, a senior official of the CIA “judged the likelihood of Mr. Hussein’s initiating an attack in the foreseeable future as ‘low,’ ” The New York Times reported. However, should the United States initiate a war against Iraq, the agency concluded, the Ba’athist dictator would feel “much less constrained” in employing the chemical and biological arsenal he is said to possess.

Consider then the president’s logic. According to the White House, the United States must attack Iraq because Iraq would attack the United States if the United States attacked Iraq. It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

This record has placed most U.S. citizens in a difficult position. On the one hand, their distrust of the Iraqi government is well founded. Saddam Hussein has been responsible for countless heinous atrocities, and the notion that he should be trusted to be forthright and honest is absurd. On the other hand, the Bush administration has expressed its consistent hostility toward international law – which is, it must be recalled, the “supreme law of the land” under Article 6 of the Constitution – and has demonstrated an utter disregard for the truth. It, too, should not be trusted.

Fortunately, we need not rely on the word of either of these outlaw regimes. A team of U.N. inspectors is presently working to establish a credible accounting of Iraq’s forbidden weapons programs. It must be allowed to continue.

But this is not enough. Consistent with U.N. Resolution 687, the disarmament of Iraq must be merely the first step in ridding the Middle East as a whole of weapons of mass destruction. (Of course, it is imperative that any monitoring and eventual disarmament also extend to the United States, Russia, China and other countries in possession of these odious arms.) This would mean divesting Israel of its nuclear and suspected chemical arsenal as well as ensuring that other regional powers, such as Iran, be prevented from acquiring the same.

This is an ambitious but crucial undertaking that will require considerable multilateral cooperation. The proposed alternative – a U.S.-led war in Iraq that the United Nations estimates might result in 500,000 casualties and “the outbreak of diseases in epidemic if not pandemic proportions” – is unthinkable. Tragically, with each passing day the United States is squandering the international goodwill necessary to achieve a peaceful settlement to the Iraq crisis. At the same time, support for U.S. foreign policy worldwide has reached a virtual nadir. Yet, the president will insist tonight, the course of action he is pursuing will only make us safer.

I don’t trust George W. Bush to tell the truth, and I certainly don’t trust him with my life. Do you?

Scott Laderman’s biweekly column appears alternate Tuesdays.

He welcomes comments at [email protected].

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