'Who should we trust?'

Posted: May 03, 2003 12:00 AM

 In the op-ed business, it’s important to have a consistent “voice.” It helps build a loyal readership.

 New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has certainly found his voice. A Princeton economics professor by day, his twice-weekly column in the “newspaper of record” has made him the patron saint of those who despise President Bush. He gladly throws red meat to people like the man who recently e-mailed me, “I'd love to see Bush tried for war crimes.”

 Krugman hasn’t called for an inquisition yet, but he’s edging closer. “Remember that President Bush made his case for war by warning of a ‘mushroom cloud,’” Krugman wrote on April 29. “Clearly, Iraq didn’t have anything like that -- and Mr. Bush must have known that it didn’t.” He adds that the president “misled” Americans to get us into war.

 Of course, in the months before the war, President Bush discussed other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in addition to nuclear weapons, but Krugman breezily dismisses those: “Poison gas or crude biological weapons ... aren't true WMDs, the sort of weapons that can make a small, poor country a threat to the greatest power the world has ever known.”

 This ignores the fact that Iraq was offered the chance to declare its WMDs and destroy them. Instead, Saddam Hussein’s regime chose to issue a misleading report that ignored weapons we know Iraq had, and provided no evidence that these weapons had been destroyed, as United Nations resolution 1441 required.

 Krugman also ignores the fact that Hussein himself was a weapon of mass destruction. Human rights groups estimate he killed at least 300,000 people during his autocratic regime. That’s the population of Springfield, Mo. His removal ended that killing and was a blessing to Iraq.

 Krugman goes on to say we should ask ourselves some hard questions. “Why is our compassion so selective? In 2001 the World Health Organization called for a program to fight infectious diseases in poor countries ... The U.S. share of the expenses would have been about $10 billion per year ... Yet the Bush administration contemptuously dismissed the proposal.”

 Sadly for Krugman, this column appeared on the same day President Bush repeated his call (first made in this year’s State of the Union address) for Congress to spend $15 billion to fight the spread of AIDS -- the most dangerous infectious disease -- in Africa.

As the Times pointed out, Bush’s proposal is a political gamble; many conservative groups, including some Townhall.com contributors, oppose his plan. It’s a measure of the president’s compassion that he’s willing to fight for his plan to help others.

Another tough Krugman question is just as easily refuted. He writes, “Aren’t the leaders of a democratic nation supposed to tell their citizens the truth?” Indeed they are, and indeed they did.

As President Bush frequently said, Saddam Hussein was a threat. To his own people. To Israel (he paid blood money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers). And to the United States (why did he want WMDs and missiles unless he planned to use them against a far-off target, like the U.S.?).

While rushing to falsely condemn the Bush administration for lying, Krugman ignores actual lies told recently by a government.

Beijing initially covered up the severity of the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic. SARS has gone on to infect at least 3,000 people in China alone. As the Washington Post reported on April 30, “until earlier this month, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and other Chinese officials sought to minimize the disease and limited information about its spread. The government acknowledged on April 20 that it had deliberately underreported SARS cases.”

Because China lied and dragged its feet, the disease was able to spread quickly to other countries. By the time Beijing admitted the extent of the epidemic (assuming China’s leaders are now telling the whole truth) to the World Health Organization, SARS had already broken out in Canada and the United States. China’s lies have put thousands of lives at risk.

Governments should, as Krugman insists, be honest with their people. As China proves, government lies can kill real people. However, as Krugman surely knows, when it comes to Iraq, the Bush administration was honest with us. By telling the truth, it eliminated a real threat, stopped real killing and gave Iraq a real chance at a better future.

And that’s no lie.