Iraq and a lack of facts

Posted: Aug 13, 2002 12:00 AM
When Dick Armey and Margaret Thatcher get crosswise on an issue of the moment, it gives their overlapping fan clubs pause -- to put it mildly. Time out, accordingly, for a few observations on the matter separating our hero and heroine -- the matter of whether to heave out Saddam Hussein by his thick, black mustaches. Baroness Thatcher wrote in The Wall Street Journal June 17, "Saddam must go." Dick Armey, Republican leader of the House, says, "I don't believe that America will justifiably make an unprovoked attack on another nation. ... As long as he behaves himself within his own borders, we should not be addressing any attack or resources against him." It is hard to find a westerner of any philosophical stripe with anything good to say about the Butcher of Baghdad. Whether to coerce his early retirement is the question. Backers of President Bush, to say nothing of Americans at large, are divided. Some say yes (because Saddam seems to be producing weapons of mass destruction); others say no (because we don't really know to what extent he is doing so). Further obfuscating the matter, liberals demand -- demand, I said -- that the United States stay out of Iraq. Now, it is usual that when liberals start demanding, conservatives start huffing. (Such is human nature, and you wonder why liberals haven't figured out that civility would serve their interests better than truculence.) On the other hand, here is true-blue conservative Dick Armey saying, "As long as (Saddam) behaves himself within his own borders, we should not be addressing any attack or resources against him." Much would seem to depend on the meaning of the word "behave." Do well-behaved dictators develop and manufacture biochemical weapons? Saddam has been known to do so in the past; suspicions are strong that he still does. As Baroness Thatcher correctly notes, "We have to assume that if those who hate us are confident that they can threaten us or our allies by this means, they will do so." Not to head off such a prospect would seem the supreme act of moral irresponsibility. Thus, the sensation of fingernails scraping a blackboard when a gaggle of lefty British Christians -- including the newly designated archbishop of Canterbury -- preachily enjoins that "An attack on Iraq would be both immoral and illegal." Come again, your worships? Heading off attempted mass slaughter affronts morality and the law? This much we would have to concede their worships: Outside the most rarefied political and intelligence circles, factual grounds for appraising the Iraqi threat, pro or con, are minimal. We form opinions in a vacuum. We trust those we are predisposed to trust, and we mistrust those ... The administration has not laid out the case for military intervention. Clearer and clearer it becomes that before the American people can make the terrible judgment that war is inevitable, they must know the measure and magnitude of the stakes. This task, as it happens, the Iraqis perversely assist through their adamant defiance of U.N. overtures aimed at gaining the right to inspect sites that may be used for manufacturing weapons capable of killing half the planet. Lately, war opponents have taken encouragement from the fact of a renewed U.N. dialogue with Iraq. That ole dog no longer hunts with vim. On Monday, Iraq's information minister, Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf, announced on Al Jazeerah TV that "inspections have finished in Iraq." Is it just possible the Iraqis might be rebuffing the inspectors on account of having something to hide? If theirs is at least as lovable a society as Zimbabwe, would they not bend over backward to prove it? Before he leads the nation into war with Iraq, President Bush will certainly have to lay his poker hand face up for close scrutiny. Meanwhile, outside presidential circles, betting of a different kind goes on -- to the effect that the president's cards are high ones. We'll know in due course. Only then can we decide intelligently.