George W. Bush is on a roll. The elections at home. The UN Security Council’s 15-to-0 acceptance of a resolution calling for tough inspections in Iraq (which can be interpreted by the get-Saddam wing of the Bush Administration as an easement toward war). What’s next? Osama bin Laden appears at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and turns himself in?
As Bush racks up political successes in the United States and at the UN, he positions himself for making the final call–to war or not. As of this writing, the word out of Baghdad is mixed. Arab diplomats and one of Saddam’s sons indicate the Iraqi dictator is likely to agree to the UN resolution before the November 15 deadline. (You can watch the hourly countdown clock on Fox News Channel.) Yet Iraq’s 250-member parliament in a unanimous vote–surprise, surprise–recommended the UN measure be rejected. Most experts quoted in the papers or interviewed on television say they believe Saddam will begrudgingly accept the resolution.
Assuming Saddam says “send ’em in,” the issue will then become whether Iraq truly meets the strict conditions outlined in the resolution. If Saddam doesn’t tell the UN–and Bush–to piss off, a debate is likely to ensue PDQ over whether Iraq is truly abiding by the terms of the resolution. It’s no secret the Iraq-hawks in the Bush Administration are ready to blow the whistle as soon as the Iraqis delay an inspection team for half-a-minute or produce records that somebody somewhere claims are incomplete. Such instances could well be signs Saddam is not serious about permitting rigorous inspections, or they might be glitches of questionable significance. No doubt, there will be much public argument over all this. And the fellow with the loudest voice in the discussion will be Bush. The UN resolution does reserve for the Security Council the right to review Iraq’s performance. But–as viewed by the White House–the resolution affords the Bush Administration the chance to render its own judgment and to act accordingly, without having to obtain the UN’s permission. Consequently, war or peace will hang on how Bush evaluates what does or does not happen with the inspectors in Iraq.
And Bush’s biases are clear. He has placed them on full display in recent weeks, making it tough to have confidence in his ability to weigh the evidence reasonably. A few days before the elections, at a campaign rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Bush, decrying Saddam, proclaimed, “This is a man who is close to having a nuclear weapon…. This is a dangerous man who cannot stand America because of what we love.”
Regarding the first sentence, the Bush Administration has yet to produce any firm evidence that Saddam is “close” to possessing a nuclear weapon. The source for this? Bush himself. At several other pre-election gatherings, he qualified this assessment, as when he said, “He was close at one time to having a nuclear weapon. We don’t know how close he is today.” Perhaps Bush merely misspoke in Harrisburg when he said that Saddam “was close” to being a nuclear-armed tyrant. But it’s an exaggeration all too in keeping with other statements he has issued. On the campaign trail, he also repeatedly noted Saddam has “had connections” with bin Laden’s al Qaeda network and that Saddam wants to use al Qaeda–or “an al Qaeda-type network”–to attack the United States with weapons of mass destruction. This may be so. But his Administration has notbacked up Bush’s assertion with proof.