Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 6, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

IRAQ AND ITS WEAPONRY....Ignore everything Colin Powell said yesterday about mobile weapons labs, al-Qaeda connections, and satellite photos. Instead, consider only the following intercepted telephone call between two commanders in Iraq's 2nd Republican Guard Corps:

Col: Captain Ibrahim?
Capt: I am with you, sir.
Col: Remove.
Capt: Remove.
Col: The expression.
Capt: The expression. I got it.
Col: Nerve agents.
Capt: Nerve agents.
Col: Wherever it comes up.
Capt: Got it. Wherever it comes up.

Here's the problem: we don't live in a James Bond novel, and this intercept seems to indicate as clearly as any real-world intelligence could that the Iraqis are hiding biological weapons from the UN inspectors. And yet apparently it's not good enough: Eric Alterman, for example, doesn't believe it. In fact, he says, "the men and women who run this administration are not honest and therefore not to be trusted on this most crucial of questions." In other words, nothing they say could convince him.

I am sympathetic to the notion that administrations lie a lot on the subject of war, and I'm certainly sympathetic to the idea that this particular administration routinely lies about anything they think they can get away with. And yet....that leaves us with a problem, doesn't it? If, a priori, nothing the administration says is believable, then opposition to war simply becomes a religious doctrine. After all, no one else is going to try and make the case.

But I think Alterman is wrong. Unlike, say, during the Tonkin Gulf incident, this administration is under intense scrutiny. There's enormous distrust of what they say, and they know it. They won't get the free pass that LBJ did.

What's more, they know that everything they say is easily verifiable once the war starts. No one ever pressed LBJ for proof of what happened in the Tonkin Gulf, but there will be dozens of countries and dozens more NGOs who will be looking very closely at what we find in Iraq after ground forces move in. It will hardly be possible to fake vast numbers of mobile weapons labs, swimming pools of anthrax, ballistic missiles, and the like, and if those things aren't found in substantial and convincing quantities George Bush will be lucky to escape impeachment, let alone win reelection.

If your opposition to war is based on the idea that Saddam does indeed possess illegal weapons but it's best to leave him alone anyway, well and good. But if it's based on the idea that the administration is lying and none of this stuff exists, you should tread carefully. I think it's pretty likely you will be proven wrong shortly.

Kevin Drum 10:02 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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