Doubts on Iraq war: reason or pretext?

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Shame be to the leader who gets his people into the wrong war; or who takes his country to war for the wrong reasons; or who lies to his fellow citizens to achieve unstated objectives. It is the wrong way to lead. Woe be to the ones who pretend one thing and do another.

The present U.S. administration has some serious smoking mirrors to wipe off and realign. This is the growing opinion around the country - discussed in major articles in TIME and Newsweek and reported in hundreds of stories and columns across the U.S. The emerging opinion, which is near to a consensus position already among the international community, including many in the U.S. intelligence community, is that America got launched into the Iraq war on the pretense of pretext, and not based on the actual evidence or the actual argument made to the American people.

If true, this calls into question the strategic approach of the present administration. It puts in doubt the credibility of the world's only superpower which we want to believe is also its most hopeful guiding beacon of democracy. If the threat that was supposed to exist, and upon which we bombed another country into submission, causing great loss of life, was exaggerated - perhaps even manufactured - how can the people of this great Indian country know who the enemy really is? How can we know how to protect ourselves? How can we know, truly, for which good cause did our soldiers die?

As if the world's many dangers were not problem enough, it would appear from the recently published evidence, that a very small group of quite radical and ideologically-driven policy-makers very significantly exaggerated and manipulated basic information, discarding the deep advice of the government's own intelligence agencies, in order to go ahead and implement its war strategy. Through skillful communications (some would say propaganda) strategy they gathered together a bundle of information pieces that scared the country to high levels. Most of the pieces turned out to be false. All seem flimsy.

The leading question is about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), which the country was informed constituted a direct threat to the people of America. Perhaps WMD of some sort may be found; although as the months go by it becomes less likely. The evidence so far is that such programs diminished through the 1990s and that it can very well be there was not much activity.

But the issue is about more than the WMD. What the national press is discerning is a pattern of exaggeration and manipulation of very thin evidence about the real capacity and even willingness for aggression on the part of Iraq against the United States. The argument is still strong that Iraq was basically a contained country, which, although abhorrent in its internal injustice, was not a threat to the U.S.

As it now turns out the early Iraqi exile testimony on WMD was never corroborated. Details did not pan out, and were never confirmed on the ground. Fraudulent documents, purporting to show uranium purchases by Iraq, projected as real, were later proven to be forgeries. Aluminum tubes supposedly able to deliver chemical bombs, the main case used in one major address made by the president, turned out not to be of proper dimension. Supposed meetings between Sept. 11 hijacker Muhammad Atta and Saddam's people in Europe turned out to be impossible, as Atta was in the U.S. at the time. (The FBI has his rental car and hotel receipts en route from Florida to Virginia.) The list goes on. Perhaps most telling, however, is that no nuclear, chemical or biological weapons were used by the dying regime and its despot.

Labeled as an "imminent threat," the solidifying scenario goes, Iraq was apparently targeted more for its strategic location in the heart of the Middle East and the business of oil, and to signal to the world, that the United States can assert its policy of preemptive military strike.

The trouble we now learn is that much of the purported evidence was disputed, even by intelligence agencies, and yet it was foisted upon U.S. citizens and the world. War might be the only logical goal for those intent on violent imposition, but it is equally true that war generates occupation, a morally eroding process for any nation, as Israel will testify. A war waged under compromised pretext risks the danger of becoming a confusing and counter-productive activity.

Just as the scandals of dishonest accounting and reporting weakened Wall Street and many firms, so political dishonesty at such high levels can truly weaken the body politic of America. If the nation's highest counselors may have in fact purposely distorted the basis of major policy decisions, clearly the country is in for a prolonged and vigorous internal debate on the meaning and consequences of such methods. Trust is being decimated.

American conservatism in its traditional version understood the limitations of power, particularly military power, which is very expensive and, even beyond its ability to inflict fear, pain and death, can often produce unforeseen consequences. Not so apparently its modern brand of hard right, media outlets who worked hand-in-glove with the administration to sell the war. But this was also a problem that affected most all of America's media. In the desire to stand strongly together in the war on terrorism and to unify behind America's soldiers, many took on face value the veracity of the administration's claims concerning Iraq's weapons programs and the supposed imminent threat that Iraq posed to the country.

The lament might now ask what happened to American pragmatism and where traveled its honor and integrity on such an important matter? Where are the traditional conservatives? Where are the likes of a leader like Eisenhower, a conservative military patriot who clearly understood the inherent dangers of manipulated patriotism? Without Eisenhower, a repugnant bully named Joe McCarthy would have haunted American politics into long-term paranoia.

We stated before and do so again. Although taken on its word the Bush administration has yet to provide proof of its case. The world still waits for American forces to disclose the fullest possible accounting of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq. The investigation, to be credible, should include the participation of independent UN inspectors. Any Iraqi archives discovered should be thrown open for independent study. And such study must not shrink from following leads to the corporations that provided materials and the foreign governments that gave advice.

The press and Congress would now do well to call the administration to task on this question. The press needs to dedicate significant resources and apply its best reporters to the case. Congress must launch and conduct a serious, non-partisan investigation to provide Americans and the world with the truth on a matter that truly matters. They should continue to do so intensely. A democratic people should expect no less, especially in these dangerous times.