“‘Don’t worry. We’ve got a plan. We purposefully let the Iraq issue stay in no-man’s-land for a while. But we know what we’re doing.’ That’s what senior people at the White House tell me,” the Reverend Lou Sheldon, the chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, informs me while we’re waiting for sandwiches. (It pays to favor the Capitol Hill deli fancied by a leader of the religious right.) “I sure hope so,” he adds.
There does seem to be a plan in the works. August, as White House chief of staff Andrew Card told a reporter, is an awful time to “introduce new products”–such as a war. So the Bush administration waited until back-to-school week to add the latest lyrics to its beating of the war drums. As part of the run-up to Bush’s September 12 speech at the UN–in which, the White House promises, he will lay out the case for confronting Saddam Hussein–the big cahunas of Bush’s posse hit the Sunday shows to issue the pre-case for going to war with Iraq.
This whole operation has a fake air to it, for Bush and Dick Cheney have already talked themselves into a corner. Bush has repeatedly cited Saddam as an immediate and direct threat to the United States and the entire world. Cheney has said time is of the essence and that even a revived weapons inspection program in Iraq would not undo this threat. In fact, he argued, a program to monitor and disarm Saddam would only provide a false sense of comfort and allow Saddam more time to become more of a menace. With such rhetoric, the Bush administration has left itself with no option other than a military strike against Saddam.
Meanwhile, Bush and his lieutenants have already been trying to make the case. For months, they have been on the phone and in meetings with European, Asian and Middle Eastern allies, desperately seeking partners for the crusade against Saddam. Only one other leader so far has signed up–British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Most others have publicly distanced themselves from the administration’s get-Saddam-now urgings. Is Bush going to say anything much different at the UN than what he and his people have already told the allies?
Bush may have one more chance with his UN speech. But the pre-speech chatter from the administration showed that Team Bush has still not come together on the fine points of its war against Iraq. On Fox News Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that “disarmament is the issue” and that the reason for “regime change” (the administration’s euphemism for attacking Iraq) is to “make sure” Iraq is disarmed. Yet when Tim Russert asked Cheney on Meet The Press whether the goal is “disarmament or regime change,” Cheney replied, “The President’s made it clear that the goal of the United States is regime change.” (Guess Powell missed that memo.) On CNN, Wolf Blitzer asked national security adviser Condoleeza Rice if the Iraqi government was linked to al Qaeda. She responded, “There is certainly evidence that al Qaeda people have been in Iraq. There is certainly evidence that Saddam Hussein cavorts with terrorists.” Asked if Iraq has been “working with and supporting al Qaeda,” Powell said, “We cannot yet make a definitive conclusion that such a thing has occurred.” On this subject, Cheney said, “there has been reporting that suggests that there have been a number of contacts over the years” between Iraq and al Qaeda. He did not elaborate on this vague but provocative assertion.