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Whereís the proof?
Bush has failed to make the case that war with Iraq will bring us peace. Plus, Mitt Romneyís stomach-turning strategy.

ON MONDAY NIGHT, President George W. Bush presented his case for going to war with Iraq. But he didnít sway us.

There is no more important decision that an American president can make than to send the United States into war. None. It is incumbent upon President Bush and the hawks populating his administration to show proof ó not just to the American people, but also to the rest of the world ó that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is developing nuclear weapons.

On Monday, in a move that recalled United Nations ambassador Adlai Stevensonís dramatic unveiling of photographic evidence of a Soviet missile build-up in Cuba, the White House released spy-satellite photographs showing that Hussein has rebuilt a nuclear facility bombed by the US in 1998. But in 1962, Stevenson showed the world photos of missiles. The photos the Bush administration revealed were of buildings. We still donít know whatís inside them. The photos didnít show us, and the president didnít tell us. Before preemptively striking Iraq with the full force of our military ó potentially risking hundreds if not thousands of American lives ó the world must see the evidence that we risk nuclear aggression by not toppling Hussein from power.

On Monday night, Bush told us that Iraq is "seeking nuclear weapons." Thatís a far cry from actually having them. When a president proposes spending lives to solve problems, he owes us more than speculative analysis and rhetorical reasoning as justification.

Thereís no question that Hussein is a threat to peace. Nor is there any question that the worldís stability would be strengthened by removing him from power. Itís also not unreasonable to believe that a majority of the Iraqi people, including the military, might be waiting for the cover of a US-led military action to quickly rid themselves of their oppressor. After all, Hussein is a maniacal despot who used VX chemical nerve gas, which is lethal in minute doses, to quell an Iraqi rebellion in Halabja in 1988. In an attempt to gain control of 10 percent of the worldís oil, he invaded neighboring Kuwait 12 years ago. It is naive to the point of irresponsibility to think Hussein is amassing weapons like VX and other biological agents for the heck of it. He will use them on his enemies, both real and perceived, if given the opportunity.

But Hussein has not given us a reason to attack him now. He has not been clearly linked with the September 11 terror attacks. He has not attacked other countries, as he did in 1990. And he has given us no signs that heís on the verge of doing so.

If Hussein is the dangerous threat Bush says he is ó and he may very well be ó then it must be proven. Despite the presidentís hyperbolic and fear-provoking predictions that every day we delay going to war with Iraq is another day that Iraq can use to become a nuclear power, we owe it to ourselves and the world to know that we have no other option but to send our soldiers and the soldiers of other nations off to die.

The current move to bring United Nations weapons inspectors back into Iraq must be allowed to run its course. The need for a stronger resolution under which to conduct these inspections is important not because the UN is a body to which we should entrust our national interests, but because it is the way to assure the broadest cooperation from other nations in a campaign to rid the world of an individual who has already demonstrated his capacity for evil. We would prefer a stronger UN resolution than the one that governed weapons inspectors after the Gulf War. The new UN resolution should permit access to Husseinís "palaces," which comprise about 12 square miles of land "with hundreds of structures both above and below the ground where sensitive materials could be hidden," as Bush put it on Monday. And if the UN Security Council is unwilling to pass a tough new resolution ó which would be yet another demonstration of that bodyís flaccidity ó the president should wait for inspectors to move forward under the old resolutions.

If Hussein thwarts the inspections process by refusing to give full and unfettered access to those inspectors, as he did consistently over nearly 10 years, that would be proof enough for us that heís hiding something. And that heís likely developing nuclear weapons. Given what we know of Hussein, we donít need direct evidence that heís amassing weapons of mass destruction. Indirect evidence, such as his refusal to cooperate with an international authority merely seeking to establish that he is complying with international law, should be enough.

Until then, though, we must show restraint. Regardless of our military might, going to war is the most dangerous and unpredictable course a nation can embark upon. We must be sure we have no other options before we act.

Last week, GOP gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney tried to hitch his campaign to the presidentís war on terrorism. He did so, in part, by appropriating the phrase thatís become American shorthand for kicking butt: "Letís roll." Itís what United Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer said before moving with others aboard the plane to overtake their hijackers. Itís the title of Lisa Beamerís memoir about her husband. Itís the name of a Neil Young anthem about the September 11 attacks. And itís what Romney said when talking about ... cutting taxes.

In a speech introducing the president at a Seaport Hotel fundraiser, as Seth Gitell reports in "Patriot Act," page one, Romney recalled the presidentís visit to the Olympics in Utah and quoted Bush talking to the athletes: "He gave them a battle cry they would not forget.... He said, ĎLetís roll.í" Romney allowed the cheers and the applause in the room to cascade over him. "We have to make sure we have that battle cry today as well because there are some people who would get the bus going back to Taxachusetts."

We arenít surprised when politicians take credit they donít entirely deserve. We expect them to exaggerate their past accomplishments. Itís all part of the political game. But Romneyís blatantly political use of a phrase thatís so fiercely connected with the horror of September 11 did take us by surprise. Just how vacuous and hollow is this man?

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]

Issue Date: October 10 - 17, 2002
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