I do not know what we should do about Iraq. But to reach the right answer, we should focus on the right question: What approach seems the best bet to reduce the very large risk that a thermonuclear explosion-whether engineered by Iraq, Al Qaeda, or someone else-will obliterate Washington, New York, or another American city (or cities) at some point during the next two or three decades?
The Constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject, and authorized such a measure.
Should America’s war aims be big and bold, or small and soft? Should we go in forcefully to make sure that Osama bin Laden is killed and the Taliban overthrown, or hold back for fear of inflaming the "Death-to-America" mobs and destabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan? Should we hunt down Al Qaeda terrorists hiding in unfriendly countries, or plead impotently for their extradition? Should we stand proudly by Israel, or distance ourselves? Should we vow to invade Iraq and decapitate Saddam Hussein’s regime if he threatens us with weapons of mass destruction, or sit back, hoard antibiotics, move out of our endangered cities, and hope for the best?
"This is a bigger cover-up than Watergate ever was… It involves the decision by George Bush to arm Saddam Hussein."
–Vice President nominee Albert Gore Jr., Oct. 25,1992
‘We did not find evidence that U.S. agencies or officials illegally armed Iraq…. We also considered whether the Justice Department’s earlier work…. was subverted for political purposes, and found that it was not…. I found no evidence of corruption or incompetence…. On the contrary, the work of the Department and other agencies has by and large been thorough, persistent, and careful."
–John Hogan, counselor to Attorney General Janet Reno, in final report of special task force investigating alleged Bush administration crimes involving Iraq, made public Jan. 23, 1995
So the last word is in. At least, it will be the last word for all but the looniest of conspiracy theorists. The great "Iraqgate" scandal of 1992-a cavalcade of claims democrats and big-shot journalists that the Bush administration secretly and illegally armed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, then lied to Congress and obstructed justice to cover it up-has been found phony, by none other than the Clinton administration.
John Hogan, a longtime close aide to Attorney General Janet Reno, whom Reno chose in June 1993 to get to the bottom of Iraqgate, has now issued a carefully documented 119-page report, summarizing the work of nearly 20 prosecutors and investigators over 15 months.
The bottom line: no evidence of Bush administration crimes, no evidence of a cover-up, no evidence of a "decision by George Bush to arm Saddam Hussein," no evidence of obstruction of justice.
As Hogan notes, with admirable understatement, "Neither I nor the Justice Department have any stake in protecting earlier administrations from embarrassment."
Republican partisans have been spewing vitriol for so long at Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel investigating the Iran-Contra affair, that it’s tempting to brush off the current claims that Walsh played a dirty election-eve trick on President George Bush as more right-wing ranting.
But this time Walsh’s critics have a point, though a more modest one than they claim: It was only natural (if ultimately mistaken) for them to suspect a political motivation when Walsh chose the last Friday before the election, Oct. 30, to drop into the public record a nugget of evidence dramatically contradicting President Bush’s claim that he was "out of the loop" on Iran-Contra.
Walsh’s critics also have a point when they complain that the mainstream media have shown a remarkable lack of interest in exploring Walsh’s October surprise, compared with, for example, the saturation coverage of the State Department search of Bill Clinton’s passport files.
It’s not that there was anything wrong per se with Walsh disclosing the evidence that so discomfited Bush-a Jan. 7, 1986, note summarizing an Oval Office meeting that day, in which then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wrote that the "VP favored" an "Iranian offer to release our 5 hostages in return for sale of 4000 TOWs to Iran by Israel." Indeed, one of the reasons Congress passed the independent-counsel law was to expose executive-branch lies and quasi-lies, like Bush’s efforts to distance himself from the arms-for-hostages dealings.
Before Attorney General William Barr-spoiled the symmetry on Friday, we had a near-perfect Washington triangle: FBI Director William Sessions was investigating the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department. The CIA was investigating itself. And the Justice Department was investigating Sessions, his assistant, and his wife.
And now comes Frederick Lacey, a retired federal district judge from New Jersey whom Barr-named as "independent counsel"-but not the normal, court-appointed kind-to investigate Justice’s "Iraqgate" investigation.
It was a wise move by Barr, although it’s unclear whether Lacey’s probe will carry the same credibility as would one by a court-appointed independent counsel. (Lacey’s assignment includes advising Barr on whether to seek a court-appointed independent counsel later.) Barr-said that his subordinates "deserve to be exonerated," but that "in the current political climate, I have regrettably concluded that if I determine that they have done nothing wrong, they will not receive that exoneration.”
That’s one of the reasons why Iraqgate is a textbook illustration of the need for some kind of mechanism-not necessarily the one we have now, which will expire on Dec. 15-for referring such politically charged matters to prosecutors genuinely independent of the incumbent administration. Barr’s solution of making the appointment himself may get him past this crisis, but for the long term it’s not good enough.
What gave this scandal legs was the flap over the submission by Justice and the CIA of a misleading-or, at best, incomplete-Sept. 17 CIA letter to U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob, who was presiding over a case involving billions of dollars in allegedly illegal loans to Iraq that were funneled through the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro in Atlanta.
"We have not been targeting Mr. Saddam Hussein," says Gen. Colin Powell. "We’re not targeting any individual," says President Bush. "That’s not the way we fight wars anyway," says Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
Well, why not?
The man took power by assassination, kept it by murder, left a million dead in a war of aggression against Iran, gassed the Kurds, and obliterated Kuwait. He bombs Israeli civilians, tortures prisoners, fouls the sea with oil, and threatens chemical and biological warfare.
Why not just kill him? Or-to be more precise-now that our bombers have leveled his palace and scoured the skies trying to get a bead on him, why pretend he is not a target?
People make three basic arguments against targeting Saddam. Two of them are unconvincing. A third has some substance-and pretty much assures that no American leader is going to admit to targeting a foreign leader.
Morality. Some argue that it is-immoral to target anyone for assassination, even a person as evil as Saddam.
Whether retributive killing is ever justified poses a nice moral question. Thus we argue endlessly about the death penalty.
But we would not be killing Saddam solely to punish him for crimes he has already committed. We would be killing him to save tens of thousands of other, innocent lives by ending the war, or at least shortening it. Most lives thereby spared would be Iraqi. Many would be American.
The last refuge of the moralists is that it is somehow worse to kill an identified person by design than to kill anonymous souls who happen to be in the way of a thrust at a military target. But Saddam is a military target. And while planned killings are worse than accidental killings, deaths caused by an allied thrust into Kuwait would hardly be accidental.