Thomas Sowell

The Vietnam War showed how dangerous it is to allow a President of the United States to lie us into armed conflict, as Lyndon Johnson did by inflating a minor incident in the Gulf of Tonkin into a means of stampeding Congress into authorizing an escalation of military action in Southeast Asia.

If the current charge that President George W. Bush deliberately deceived Congress about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were to be taken seriously, it would be grounds for impeachment, if only as a warning to future presidents.

But just what has President Bush done to generate the current political and media frenzy? He spoke the now-famous 16 words in his State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Did these words mislead Congress into authorizing military action against Iraq? No -- because it authorized military action months before that speech was made.

As for weapons of mass destruction in general, what is the issue? Whether Iraq has produced them? Whether it had them last year when military action was authorized? Whether it still had them when the invasion began in March? Whether they are still there now? Whether they are likely to be found within a few months after the war ended?

There is no question whether Iraq has had weapons of mass destruction in general or was trying to develop nuclear weapons in particular. The Israelis bombed the Iraqi nuclear weapons facility more than two decades ago -- and the world has been a safer place because of it, despite the chorus of condemnation of Israel at the time.

Saddam Hussein not only had but used chemical weapons of mass destruction against both the Iranians and the Kurds within Iraq. So the issue is not what he has had or whether he had the ruthlessness to use them. The only issue left is: At what point in time did he stop having them -- if he ever stopped?

Intelligence gathering has seldom been an exact science. During World War II, the United States worked desperately to create the first nuclear bomb -- because of reports that Germany was ahead of us in nuclear research and had to be overtaken.

After the war, it turned out that German nuclear research was not nearly as advanced as we had feared. But, when it comes to nuclear weapons, if you wait until you have that "proof" which some politicians have been loudly demanding, you can wait until it is too late -- fatally and irrevocably too late.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate