March 13, 2003

March 13, 2003 | Commentary on Political Thought

Mything in Action

"I'm just trying to get people thinking."

So spoke one of the thousands of students who turned out for anti-war protests in cities worldwide on March 5.

Good idea. There's nothing wrong with a lively debate on when or whether the United States should take military action to force Iraq to disarm. But let's all operate from the same set of facts.

Five myths are clouding the entire discussion. If we can get past those, we can at least make rational judgments.

Myth #1: We need a smoking gun. This is a classic catch-22. Unless and until the United Nations inspectors find a "smoking gun" -- weapons that Saddam Hussein has failed to disclose -- we must assume Iraq has nothing to hide, and we have no reason to go to war, critics say. If inspectors do find prohibited weapons, it proves that inspections work … and we have no reason to go to war.

But the inspectors aren't there to find weapons. They're there to verify that Saddam has disclosed all his illicit weapons and to oversee their destruction. This works only if he cooperates fully. Clearly, he hasn't. At the end of the Gulf War in 1991, we knew Saddam had 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin and 500 tons of mustard, sarin and VX nerve gas. He was required, under the terms that ended that war to destroy them all.

What happened to those weapons? They weren't mentioned in the 12,000-page report Iraq presented to the United Nations. It's a shame so many trees had to die to provide the paper for that report, with its useless and outdated information.

Myth #2: Americans oppose a war. Americans generally support President Bush's efforts to disarm Saddam. They'd like assurances that Saddam has broken agreements, possesses weapons of mass destruction and has left us no option but war. They'd be happier if every nation joined in or at least supported the effort. But most Americans trust their leaders to act with their best interests at heart -- and realize that the United States can't put its own security in the hands of international bodies.

Myth #3: We shouldn't launch a war with international public opinion set against us. First, not everyone opposes our comply-or-face-the-consequences stance. Yes, Britain stands with us. But most of Saddam's neighbors (who presumably know him best) have agreed to help; Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman, for example, have offered basing rights. Those who know what it's like to live under oppression seem especially willing to sign up, even if that means -- as is the case with several central and eastern European countries -- jeopardizing their chances to join the European Union.

But even if all the world stood against us, we need to remember that President Bush is ultimately answerable to only one group: the American people. And those who fret about "public opinion" elsewhere should reflect on what it's like in one country in particular: Iraq, where the people, as Asla Aydintasbas, a writer for the Turkish daily Sabah, noted in a recent op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, can't wait for the day of their liberation to arrive.

Myth #4: President Bush just wants to use nuclear weapons against Iraq. He won't renounce their use, the critics say. So he must intend to use them.

Nonsense. Nuclear weapons can serve as a powerful deterrent, but only if opponents perceive their threat as credible. What's worse, this is said of a president who has directed his military to limit civilian casualties as much as possible and to prepare for the humane treatment of the thousands of Iraqi soldiers likely to surrender as soon as they can find an American.

Myth #5: It's about oil. This one makes for a good placard. But, frankly, if we wanted their oil, we could just buy it. Saddam has indicated repeatedly that he'd be glad to sell his oil to U.S. firms.

We want to steal it, some reply. But ask the Kuwaitis how much oil we took after we liberated them. Ask the French and Russians, who have been assured that we will respect their leases and their financial claims on the post-war Iraqi government.

The truth is, we can't let Saddam keep developing weapons he could give to terrorists to victimize us. Our vulnerabilities are too many, our import controls too thin. We have to go to the source. And Saddam is the source.


- Jack Spencer is a policy analyst at the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).

About the Author

Jack Spencer Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity

Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire