by Patrick J. Buchanan – August 21, 2002
With the Democratic Party still hiding in the tall grass, the GOP establishment is beginning to split over the issue of war on Iraq. Majority Leader Dick Armey was the first to speak out against it, followed by Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Bush I.
An attack on Iraq now, says Scowcroft, would “jeopardize, if not destroy [our] global counter-terrorist campaign.” It could cause Saddam to launch weapons of mass destruction at Israel, provoking Israeli nuclear retaliation, igniting Armageddon.
Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf concurs. In the Gulf War, Saddam’s first Scuds were aimed not at U.S. forces, but at Israel, to provoke Israel to respond and shatter our Arab coalition. This time, Israel will be hit by Scuds with weapons of mass destruction, says the general, and this time, Israel will not hold its fire.
Far from fearing this scenario, Israel seems to welcome it, as Ariel Sharon is now urging us to attack Iraq sooner, rather than later, or not at all. Isolated and friendless in the Arab world, Sharon would like to have America join Israel in the isolation booth. But what is in Sharon’s interest is not in America’s interest.
With the U.S. establishment and military divided, and our Arab and European allies opposed, President Bush may be having second thoughts about a pre-emptive war. But can he back away from a war he has loudly and repeatedly threatened?
Richard Perle thinks not. He thinks Bush’s belligerency has locked him in and he cannot now evade war without the ruination of America’s credibility. “[F]ailure to take on Saddam after what the president said would produce such a collapse of confidence in the president that it would set back the war on terrorism.”
If Bush does not make good on all his bellicosity about the “axis of evil” and “regime change,” Perle is saying, he risks a defeat in the war on terror and possible regime change in Washington, D.C., in 2004.
Some of us have long argued that the president blundered terribly with all this war talk, fed him by his neoconservative speechwriters. It bought him nothing, but locked him into war before America or her allies were united and prepared for it, and before he had fully considered all of the consequences.
But Perle has a point. The president and America will suffer a major loss of credibility in the Islamic world if he backs away from war, and it is the president’s own fault – and that of his War Cabinet – that he, and we, are now far out on this limb.
They did not consider – or do not understand – the power of words spoken by the leader of a superpower. Saddam can bluster about “the mother of all battles” and American soldiers bringing their coffins with them to Iraq. But when the president speaks, the world listens, and when he threatens war in the aftermath of 9-11, the world concludes that war is coming.
Now it will take great courage for the president to concede he was rash in committing us to war, and more courage to back away from war, for the rage and frustration he will engender in the War Party and its unforgiving ally, the Israeli lobby, will be immense.
However, the War Party is losing momentum. Condoleeza Rice’s “moral case” for attacking Iraq fell flat. Whatever his sins, Saddam is not in the same league with Stalin, whose regime FDR recognized in 1933, as that monster was starving 9 million Ukrainians, or Mao, who welcomed Nixon to Beijing, even as his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was entering its bloody climax.
When Bush returns from Crawford, Texas, in September, he is going to face a hellish situation. With Armey, Scowcroft and now ex-Secretary of State Larry Eagleburger, Sen. Chuck Hagel and Jack Kemp deserting the War Party, Democrats have all the political cover needed to oppose the president’s pre-emptive war.
They will be speaking up and speaking out, demanding that he make his case to Congress and country, before going to war. The War Party’s moment may have come and gone.
The op-ed pages used to be monolithic for war. No more. The talk shows now host Republicans against war. Polls are turning. Tony Blair is no longer so hawkish. He faces a rebellion in his party and cabinet. The U.N. is opposed, NATO is opposed, the Arabs are opposed. Sharon is now openly pressing for war, and neoconservatives are branding opponents “appeasers.” Not a sign of strength.
If the president and War Cabinet are still committed to pre-emptive war, they will have to make a far more compelling case to the country and Congress. For they are losing the argument, even if they retain the option of ending the argument – by simply launching the war.
Such is our situation, brought on by all this bellicose rhetoric.