A War of Convenience
   by Gene Lyons

      War fever, catch it. That's the Washington theme of the week.
Following Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the U.N.
Security Council regarding Saddam Hussein's many sins, the majority of
the capital's political class pronounced itself overwhelmed by evidence of
theIraqi dictator's "weapons of mass destruction," or WMDs, as the
trendiest pundits style them.

     The allegedly "liberal" Washington Post responded editorially with a one-word
headline. "Irrefutable." Columnist Mary McGrory announced that despite being
almost a pacifist by inclination, "I'm Persuaded," mostly by what she described as
Powell's unimpeachable integrity. Joining the stampede was NewYork Times
columnist Bill Keller, who noted that "TheI-Can't-Believe-I'm-a-Hawk Club
includes op-ed regulars at this newspaper and The Washington Post, the editors
of The New Yorker, The New Republic and Slate, columnists in Time and Newsweek."

     If Keller's list was more than a little bit selective--dissenters do remain,
including prominent conservatives like Robert Novak--it was nevertheless clear
that many pundits and fence-sitting politicians had decided not to let the war train
leave the station without them. Further resistance was deemed futile, and potentially
career-threatening.  Anybody unpersuaded of the necessity of conquering Iraq,
some converts hinted, had to be either stupid or acting in bad faith.

     Little effort was expended wondering how and why the Bush administration,
following upon the impressive diplomatic feat of uniting the U.N. Security Council
behind a unanimous 15-0 vote in favor of resolution 1441, had managed in just
three months to convert much of the same body into dissenters against President
Junior's excellent plan to establish an imperial outpost on the Persian Gulf.

     France, Germany, Russia, China, what do they know? They're spineless,
cynical, self-interested, callow, envious and resentful. NATO? Who needs it?
Pope John Paul? What's his angle? War, war, war. To the victor belong  the
spoils. No more quibbling with the Saudis and the Turks. We can change
Iraq's name to the Arab Occupied Territories. The U.S. will have a West
Bank of its own, complete with oil wells.

     To skeptics who remember "intelligence" hoaxes of past decades, however,
it wasn't clear that Powell's presentation answered any of the objections his own
surrogates like former Bush I national security advisor Brent Scowcroft have put
forward for months. Nor did he confront the most basic objection put forward by
the French and the Russians: Why now? What's the big hurry? Has Saddam massed
troops near the Turkish border? Do satellite photos show ICBMs being moved
into place to launch against Tel Aviv? No to both.

     For that matter, isn't the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" more than a bit
disingenuous? Nuclear weapons, which even Powell made clear the Iraqi dictator
can only daydream about, are infinitely more dangerous than the antiquated and
much-diminished supply of nerve gas he may be hiding. Chemical weapons don't
work when it rains or the wind blows. The only time Saddam used poison gas
weapons the Reagan administration helped him acquire was against Iran, a nation
with no capacity to escalate to the next level of insanity.

     To any skeptic with a computer modem, moreover, it became quite clear why
Powell's speech failed to convert few at the U.N. Even "Meet the Press" host Tim
Russert reminded Powell of doctored intelligence photos during the Gulf War
showing 250,000 Iraqi troops massed on the Saudi border which the
St. Petersburg Times proved to be non-existent.

     Key parts of Powell's presentation were dubious on their face. That alleged
al Qaeda base in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq? If it's what Powell says, why
hasn't it been bombed to smithereens? British and U.S. jets have been conducting
sorties in the no-fly zone for months. Because it's a dusty outpost not worth
bombing reporters for The Observer who visited the place quickly saw.

      The mobile bio-war death labs? Please. Even if Hans Blix hadn't told
The Guardian that U.S. tips had guided inspectors to mobile food inspection
facilities, anybody who's dodged herds of camels, goats and sheep and
maniacal drivers on bumpy Middle Eastern highways had to laugh. Bio-war
experts told Newsweek the idea was preposterous. "U.S. intelligence," it
reported "after years of looking for them, has never found even one."

     Then there was the embarrassing fact that key elements of a British
intelligence document cited by Powell turned out to have been plagiarized
from magazine articles and a California grad student's M.A.thesis based
upon 12 year old evidence.

     The choice, after all, isn't between war and nothing. It's between war
and squeezing Iraq through the inspections process to disarm. Already,
Saddam's begun haggling like a carpet merchant in a Middle Eastern
bazaar, finding "lost" documents, yielding on the issue of U-2 flights.

     Too late.  The crucial thing about Powell's speech wasn't evidence or
logic, but who gave it. The Secretary of State has surrendered to the hawks.
     War it is.  President Junior's "credibility" demands it.

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