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Ich Bin ein Missourian

by Rob Eshman

January 30, 2003 | 7:00 pm

Dear President Bush:

I am not for invading Iraq. I am not against invading Iraq. I am, I believe, exactly where the vast majority of Americans are these days -- very, very skeptical. The day before your State of the Union address, a Gallup poll showed that support for an Iraq invasion had dipped to its lowest level -- 52 percent -- since last summer. After the speech, the numbers jumped more toward invasion, but the public is still far from convinced.

I listened to your well-written and well-performed address and paid close attention as you laid out your case for war. You reminded us that he is a cruel and awful leader. We know this, and I have no doubt that many -- if not most -- Iraqis yearn for the day he is gone. You presented credible arguments that Saddam has not lived up to his obligations to disarm. With the report of U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix fresh in our minds, your charges here rang especially true. Saddam has not accounted for biological weapons materials sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax, enough doses to kill several million people. Saddam has not accounted for materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin. He has given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

I, like most Americans, want to know what has become of those sorts of weapons, and I appreciate your holding a gun to his head until he comes clean. But should you pull the trigger?

As you made your case for doing so, you charged that Saddam, "aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda." You offered no proof of this, but said that at a Feb. 5 meeting of the U.N. Security Council, "Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraq's illegal weapons programs, its attempts to hide those weapons from inspectors and its links to terrorist groups."

Such steps will go a long way toward convincing the world, and the American public. Because, like many -- if not most -- Americans, I agree with almost all of your diagnosis, but I distrust your cure.

Right now, Saddam is clearly boxed in -- much to your credit. He has American troops camped on his doormat, U.N. inspectors roaming his terrain and, consequently, all is quiet on the Iraqi front. For you to order war, without a further U.N. resolution and without another congressional vote, would disrupt a status quo that seems to be working just fine. You are the conservative, but the act of war on such a massive scale -- preventatively -- with consequences and casualties that no one can confidently predict, is an astoundingly radical idea. We, your public, understand that, and so we await the evidence that makes the radical inevitable.

"Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent," you said Tuesday night, speaking just to that point. "Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?" The answer to that, unfortunately, doesn't help your case: Al Qaeda had struck U.S. targets several times -- including the World Trade Center -- before the Sept. 11 attacks, and our intelligence and security sources had to achieve an extraordinary level of incompetence to miss the obvious. If you didn't understand that better than most, you wouldn't have created the Office of Homeland Security.

As for tyrants, Saddam not only warned the United States of his intention to invade Iraq in 1990, he only did so after the now-famous meeting at which then-U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie told Saddam, "[W]e have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait." Glaspie's comments, combined with an earlier statement from the U.S. State Department, served as an effective green light for tyranny.

We can go back further into history, to greater tyrants. Stalin, Hitler, all of them, like boyfriends telegraphing breakups, they made their intentions known well before their heinous acts. As for Saddam's weapons, writes Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, "at least in the near term, [they] would most likely be used only if he is attacked -- and feels he has nothing left to lose."

Again, if you are looking to history to define the difference between a preemptive war and a preventative one, read Michael Oren's, "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East" (Oxford University Press, 2002). Israel has long been surrounded by Iraq-times-10, but only launched a preemptive war once. Its preventative war against Lebanon proved, in the end, calamitous.

By the end of your address, good as it was, I felt none of these doubts allayed. "I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs," a Missourian congressman said once upon a time, "and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."  

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