Homefront Reaction to the Conflict with Iraq
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TERENCE SMITH: Now for a sampling of editorial opinion from editorial page editors around the country we turn to: Cynthia Tucker, from the Atlanta Journal Constitution; Frank Burgos, from the Philadelphia Daily News; Robert Kittle, from the San Diego Union-Tribune; and Rachelle Cohen, from the Boston Herald.
Welcome to you all. Cynthia Tucker, we heard Sec. of State Colin Powell yesterday, we heard the president today. Has the administration now in your view made the case for military intervention against Iraq?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, Sec. Powell gave a very compelling case, much more detailed than anyone had expected, I think, that Saddam Hussein is deliberately concealing programs to manufacture chemical and biological weapons.
The problem is I don’t think for most of us — the French and Germans notwithstanding — there was never really any doubt about that. For me that was never the question.
Certainly since the inspectors gave up in the 1990s and left because Saddam Hussein clearly wasn’t cooperating, I think we all knew that he had tried to resume or was resuming his programs to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. The question is, how does this link up to the war on terror and why is there an immediate need, a need to go invade Iraq at the moment?
If you look around the world, Iraq doesn’t seem to pose the greatest threat to the United States at the moment — North Korea does.
TERENCE SMITH: Bob Kittle from San Diego, what’s your perspective on that issue on whether the administration has now made the case?
ROBERT KITTLE: Well, I think Terry that Sec. of State Colin Powell certainly shifted the debate from the question of whether Iraq will voluntarily disarm to the question of whether it now makes any sense to continue the U.N. inspections in the face of Iraqi intransigence, which the secretary of state laid out yesterday.
So I think also, to the question of whether there is a threat posed to the United States, I think the secretary did very much advance the debate in showing Saddam Hussein’s links to terrorism. And while he certainly didn’t try to establish that Saddam Hussein was responsible in any way for the Sept. 11 attacks, he did demonstrate to my mind at least that Saddam Hussein has given safe harbor to international terrorists, al-Qaida and others, which raise the really horrifying specter, if Iraq is allowed to continue developing weapons of mass destruction, those weapons may some day wind up in the hands of terrorists who would use them against the United States.
TERENCE SMITH: Rachelle Cohen, has the case for war been made?
RACHELLE COHEN: I think absolutely the case has been made. Sec. Powell — in fact, I thought the most impressive part of Sec. of State Colin Powell’s presentation was on the linkage to terrorism, and I heard Cynthia sort of touting a line similar to the line touted by our own Sen. Ted Kennedy that somehow the al-Qaida wasn’t made. I think the al-Qaida was made loudly and clearly. That Saddam had aided al-Qaida when al-Qaida was in Afghanistan and when someone like Zarqawi immigrated if you will to Iraq was given safe harbor and allowed to set up a training camp there.
I don’t know how the linkage could be made anymore clear than Sec. of State Colin Powell made it yesterday.
TERENCE SMITH: Frank Burgos, your view — has the case been made?
FRANK BURGOS: I think the secretary did an excellent way of making the case for the United Nations to take military action against Saddam Hussein — not the United States alone in this case. We’re really in a lot of ways back to 1998 when Bill Clinton ordered military strikes against Saddam Hussein after diplomatic efforts by Kofi Annan had failed.
We have been bombing Saddam every time he rears his weapons of mass destruction up to the surface or we find them and that’s exactly what we should be doing right now.
For me, the debate isn’t any more whether we’re going to war anymore or a way for Saddam Hussein to get out of war, the debate now what kind of war do we want.
President Bush wants a war in which Saddam Hussein is toppled. I don’t think he’ll get that. I think the United Nations will properly say you’re going to have to sort of accept disarmament. And as Kofi Annan told The Washington Post a couple of weeks ago, the United Nations is in the business of disarmament; we’re not in the business of overthrowing governments, and I think that’s where we’re going to end up.
TERENCE SMITH: Cynthia Tucker, do you believe the goals should be to disarm, not displace?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Disarmament is a very legitimate goal for the United Nations and for United States to be concerned about. But that has never been the goal of the Bush administration.
President Bush started out shortly after 9/11 talking about regime change in Iraq and he has occasionally changed his rhetoric, but the goal has never changed. Since the 1990s, there has been a group of conservatives who’ve wanted to invade Iraq.
They started writing policy papers to that effect when they were government in exile in the 1990s. According to a recent book that has come out — Bob Woodward’s book — about the Bush administration at war, Donald Rumsfeld raised the specter of toppling Saddam Hussein right after 9/11, though there is absolutely no evidence that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9/11.
So I think regime change has absolutely long term been the goal of conservatives. The Bush administration took it up and I think unfortunately that is the kind of war we will see the United States enter.
TERENCE SMITH: Bob Kittle, Frank Burgos says the case has been made not for the U.S. but for the U.N. to press this issue. So that raises the question: Should the U.S. proceed without explicit U.N. Security Council endorsement?
ROBERT KITTLE: Well Terry, I think the president obviously is going to keep his options open and has stressed that the United States does not feel it needs another resolution from the Security Council.
However, the president today and Sec. of State Powell today stressed that it would be desirable to have a resolution from the Security Council and frankly on our editorial page for months we have urged the administration to work through the United Nations, to work through the Security Council, because a war if it comes will be a much different kind of war if it has the full support of Security Council and the international community and more significantly perhaps that the effort to win the peace will be different if we have the backing of the international community.
So I think the president should continue to work through the Security Council and quite frankly I think the facts should drive and will drive the debate in the Security Council and given the facts as they are unfolding I think the Security Council will support military action in the end to in fact, remove the regime of Saddam Hussein simply because the disarmament efforts of the last decade, and let’s face it, we started trying to disarm Iraq immediately after the Persian Gulf war; we’ve tried it for a decade and hasn’t worked. I think the Security Council will be there and I hope the president continues to work through the Security Council.
TERENCE SMITH: Rachelle Cohen, should be it a essential prerequisite to military action, a U.N. Security Council endorsement?
RACHELLE COHEN: It would be a nice thing to have surely, but at this point it’s really almost irrelevant. In fact, in an odd way it would be more important for the U.N. to sign on than it would be for the United States to have the U.N. sign on.
The U.N. really risks becoming an utter irrelevancy if the U.S. goes it alone and indeed successful.
I would like to get back to the issue of regime change. We tend to forget that regime change in Iraq has been official U.S. policy since 1998, that’s when congress passed a resolution under the leadership of such conservatives as then Sen. Bob Kerrey. This has been U.S. policy for a long time and to not to go back to that era and look at that and insist that that too is needed it just to be in denial of this.
TERENCE SMITH: Frank Burgos, do you see this, this whole debate as a logical extension of the war on terrorism or distraction?
FRANK BURGOS: It’s not really a war. Not really part of the war of terrorism debate or discussion going on. This is a continuation of our relationship with Saddam Hussein since the Gulf War. George Bush the first went toe war properly so Bill Clinton bombed Saddam Hussein for weapons of mass destruction. Properly so after diplomatic efforts failed and this is just a continuation of that.
Where the Bush administration loses its credibility I think with a lot of people including me is when they try and link Saddam Hussein with terrorism. He’s never attacked us; he’s never attacked another country since the Gulf War. You can put down on a list the number of people Osama bin Laden has killed were American citizens and it’s a big list. You can put down the number of American citizens killed by Saddam Hussein and it’s a much smaller list. The argument just isn’t there.
Trying to link it I think is part of a strategy to get regime change. And to justify regime change in our minds and the minds of United Nations and the United Nations knows better.
What they’re going to say I think is we’re going to go in there and go after weapons of mass destruction and give Saddam Hussein a message to respect United Nations, to respect our resolutions, but I don’t think he’ll get regime change and in a lot of ways he shouldn’t because what regime change means if we do this alone is years and years of occupation — years and years of American troops in a Lebanon-like situation where they’re being bombarded daily with terrorists attacks and larger ones and putting us in larger terrorist danger.
TERENCE SMITH: Cynthia Tucker, do you frankly expect a war with Iraq?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. President Bush, again, has wanted regime change for months now. And even though from time to time he’s pulled back from his rhetoric, there will absolutely be a war, an invasion — unfortunately — and followed by a lengthy occupation, just as my Philadelphia colleague has just said, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the war on terrorism.
Not only that, I fear it will be a distraction from the war on terror. If you look at al-Qaida, al-Qaida is building up right now in Pakistan.
So in fact, if we wanted to have an invasion that was a follow-up to the war on terror, we would invade Pakistan. Simple fact of the matter is we know exactly where Saddam Hussein is. He’s contained at the moment.
But we have no idea where Osama bin Laden is. And the FBI and the CIA have just issued warnings they expect additional attacks on Americans just as we’re getting ready to invade Iraq. Those attacks are unlikely to come from Saddam Hussein. But they will come from members of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network.
TERENCE SMITH: I wonder if the other three could tell me very quickly in the few seconds we have left whether you expect a war.
Bob Kittle in San Diego, is that something that you think is going to happen?
ROBERT KITTLE: Terry, I think war is inevitable unless Saddam Hussein comes clean quickly and I don’t expect him to come clean quickly so I’m afraid we’re moving very swiftly to war.
TERENCE SMITH: Rachelle Cohen, do you agree?
RACHELLE COHEN: Yes, it’s not an “if” it’s a “when” and I think the “when” will be in the next month or so.
TERENCE SMITH: Final word, Frank Burgos.
FRANK BURGOS: We were going to war since August and really all we’re debating now are what kind of goal to set for the war.
TERENCE SMITH: Thank you all very much.