by Patrick J. Buchanan – February 19, 2003
Had President Bush never used all that barstool bellicosity about an Axis of Evil, “pre-emptive strike,” “regime change” and “weeks, not months,” he could now claim victory in his showdown with Saddam.
For it is only through Bush’s resolute leadership that U.N. arms inspectors are back in Iraq. With steady pressure, Bush could have hundreds more swarming all over that country, to where it would be inconceivable that Saddam could mount an assault on his neighbors.
Without war, Saddam could be back in his box. But Bush set the bar for himself too high. Now, though war is not necessary to contain Iraq, Bush cannot pull back from it. To send 200,000 troops to the Gulf, then bring them home with Saddam still in power, would cripple U.S. credibility.
One wonders if the president ever asks himself: Who got me into this? Who persuaded me to surrender my freedom of action?
While the war has not yet begun, the costs are already coming in. Europe is bitterly divided and increasingly anti-American. NATO is split. Tony Blair, a loyal ally, is in a hellish spot.
Polls show only one-in-10 Britons favor war without a new U.N. resolution, and France will veto any new resolution. And as the winter window for war closes, France’s position is unlikely to change. For the anti-Bush posture of Jacques Chirac and his foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, is wildly popular on the continent.
Belgium, France and Germany may be isolated inside NATO, but most Europeans back Paris, Berlin and Brussels in the clash with Washington. And with animosity toward Bush soaring on the continent and across the Arab and Islamic world, the U.S. ability to lead through suasion is being lost. The drive for hegemony is isolating America.
How can a new world order rooted in American values be erected now, with George W. Bush as architect? Not in recent memory has an American president been so reviled abroad.
While this caricature is grossly unjust and in large measure the work of anti-Americans abroad, the president, his War Cabinet and the War Party have contributed to America’s isolation. For this year-long campaign to paint Saddam Hussein as the new Hitler – a mortal peril to the Middle East, America, the world, even civilization itself, according to John McCain – with George W. Bush cast in the role of Churchill, is just not believable. Sustaining this fiction is taking a heavy toll on our credibility.
First, there remains not a fiber of evidence Saddam was involved in 9/11. Despite the Stakhanovite efforts of our war propagandists, the “Prague connection” between Mohammad Atta and Iraqi intelligence proved nonexistent. Colin Powell’s indictment of Saddam’s arms violations now appears to have been overdrawn. The British paper he cited was hyped and plagiarized from academic scribblings. The al-Qaida cell in Iraq seems to be in territory controlled by our Kurdish allies, not Saddam.
As for the tape in which bin Laden calls on Iraqis to launch suicide attacks on invading Americans, the White House claims this conclusively ties Saddam to Osama. It does no such thing. On the tape, bin Laden uses terms such as infidel, apostate and socialist to describe Saddam, for whom his affection is comparable to that of the late Ayatollah Khomeini for the novelist Salman Rushdie.
When it comes to aiding terrorists, Saddam is not even in a league with Iran or Syria. His missile capacity is inconsequential alongside that of Iran or North Korea. His nuclear program has been moribund for years, while Iran is mining uranium and building reactors, and North Korea is producing fissile material. North Korea is the rogue state proliferator of missiles, Pakistan the proliferator of nuclear technology. Nor is Iraq the reason F-16s over-fly our homes each night here in Washington and we drive by Stinger missile batteries on the way to work.
Nevertheless, it is Iraq against whom we are going to war, and few in this city think the president – having sent all those troops to the Gulf – can now simply declare victory and get out. No way. Delenda est Iraq. Iraq has to be destroyed.
Yet, there is a sense here that this invasion of a country that never sought war with us will bring an end to the post-Cold world we knew and vault us into a new era, the outlines of which we cannot see.
Most of us, however, look to it with greater foreboding than those neoconservatives who now anticipate with wild surmise the war for empire they have finally got.