TWO WEEKS AGO, Secretary of State Colin Powell made a powerful presentation before the United Nations Security Council showing that Iraq is in violation of UN resolutions requiring it to disarm. A number of antiwar types were so influenced by Powell that they now favor an invasion of Iraq. Following Powell’s presentation, Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory, who has been firmly against the war, wrote a piece titled I’M PERSUADED, on why she now favors an invasion. The New York Times’ Bill Keller has dubbed this group — comprising mainly members of the "East Coast liberal media cabal" — the "I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club."
Well, don’t count us in just yet.
Powell’s presentation was persuasive. He left little doubt that Iraqi military leaders have been working to deceive weapons inspectors. That, in combination with the January 27 Hans Blix–Mohamed ElBaradei report to the UN, which showed quite convincingly that Iraq is in possession of, at minimum, chemical and biological weapons such as VX nerve gas and anthrax, gives cause for alarm. But we still favor diplomatic efforts to resolve this crisis, as well as ongoing weapons inspections. (That said, news this week that a British intelligence report relied upon by Powell contained plagiarized passages from a report published in the Middle East Review of International Affairs by an American researcher doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in what’s being passed off as "intelligence.")
We’re sure to learn more this Friday, February 14, when UN weapons inspectors deliver a second report to the UN Security Council. But we doubt they’ll have anything to say to dissuade us from supporting the reasonable and rational position of containment.
That can be accomplished by what Carnegie Endowment for International Peace president Jessica Mathews calls "truly muscular inspections." This means bringing back weapons inspectors with experience in the field. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has opposed allowing past weapons inspectors back into Iraq, claiming that they are spies. But these inspectors know what to look for. They should be the ones doing the job. In addition, "no fly" and "no drive" zones should be militarily enforced. Inspectors should be given the authority to call in air strikes to destroy weapons or suspected weapons. (You can read Mathews’s convincing essay online at www.ceip.org.)
One step in the direction of "muscular inspections" was taken Tuesday when it was announced that U-2 spy planes would be flying over Iraq again. They are capable of detecting "activities aboveground and underground," as Mathews puts it, and can both photograph large areas as well as zoom in on small ones.
Why should we do all this when Hussein is so obviously working toward stockpiling weapons of mass destruction? Because war is destructive, disruptive, and dangerous. Ideological dreams of bringing democracy to the Middle East via regime change in Iraq are regarded by many as just that: ideological dreams. War should be reserved as a true means of last resort. And we’re just not there yet.
In the meantime, you should keep yourself up-to-date on what’s happening — and then let your senators and representatives in Congress know just how you feel. The Carnegie Endowment offers an impressive list of articles and reports on the Iraq crisis that fall along many points on the hawk-dove continuum; these are available online at www.ceip.org. You can call Senator Kerry’s office at (617) 565-8519. Senator Ted Kennedy can be contacted at (617) 565-3170. Either senator can be e-mailed by visiting www.senate.gov and clicking through to the senators’ Web pages. US Representative Stephen Lynch can be reached at (617) 428-2000, Michael Capuano can be reached at (617) 621-6208, and Barney Frank can be reached at (617) 332-3920. Any representative can be e-mailed from www.house.gov/writerep/.
EVEN AS WE teeter on the brink of war, domestic issues call out for attention.
• On Monday, 10 Nobel laureates in economics blasted Bush’s economic plan, saying that its "purpose is a permanent change in the tax structure and not the creation of jobs and growth in the near term." They predict massive — and chronic — federal-budget deficits well into the future that will limit the ability of future administrations to "finance Social Security and Medicare benefits as well as investments in schools, health, infrastructure, and basic research." Read their statement online at www.epinet.org. Warning to Bush: Presidents Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson sparked runaway inflation by implementing a "guns and butter" economy as they waged war while trying to meet pressing domestic obligations at the same time.
• Also on Monday, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that Charles Singleton, a mentally ill prisoner who was sentenced to death in 1981 for murdering a customer during a store robbery, can be forced to take antipsychotic drugs, thus rendering him sane enough to be executed. Until Monday’s ruling, a stay of execution had been in place because of Singleton’s mental incompetence. With Monty Python–like logic, however, the six majority justices ruled: "The Eighth Amendment forbids the execution of an incompetent person, thus the State may achieve its essential interest in carrying out Singleton’s sentence of execution only if Singleton is competent.... On this record, treatment with antipsychotic drugs is necessary to alleviate Singleton’s psychosis." In a blistering dissent, four justices argued that "to execute a man who is severely deranged without treatment, and arguably incompetent when treated, is the pinnacle of what Justice Marshall called ‘the barbarity of exacting mindless vengeance.’"
It’s interesting to note that the six justices ruling in favor of execution were all appointed to the courts by either Presidents Ronald Reagan or George H.W. Bush. The four dissenters were appointed by Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, or Bill Clinton. One justice refused to sign on with either the majority or the dissent. She was appointed to the Eighth Circuit by Clinton. Warning to voters: you’re dreaming if you think there are no substantial differences between judges appointed by Democrats and those appointed by Republicans.
ONE FINAL NOTE: US Senator John Kerry announced Tuesday that he has prostate cancer. As we went to press on Wednesday, Kerry was scheduled to have surgery. We wish him a full and speedy recovery.
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