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Friday, January 24, 2003

About those weapons...

The most detailed allegation President Bush made against Iraq in his address to the United Nations last year was the charge that Iraq had imported aluminum tubes that could only be used to enrich uranium — clear evidence of a nuclear weapons program. But U.N. weapons inspectors have concluded that the aluminum tubes couldn't have been used for this purpose without a lot of retooling; in fact, they are essentially conventional weapons casings.

What to make of this? If Saddam had "weapons of mass destruction" that made it impossible for Iraq's neighbors to challenge his belligerence, we would all have a big problem. Keeping nuclear weapons out of Iraq's hands is essential. (North Korea's atomic weapons, for example, now make it almost impossible for South Korea, Japan, or the U.S. to do anything but negotiate. Kim Jong-Il holds a trump card, and the important thing now is finding ways to keep him from making more or selling his new toys to anyone else.) But chemical and biological weapons aren't really that kind of weapon.

Gregg Easterbrook made the crucial distinction last year in The New Republic: chemical and biological weapons are dangerous and alarming, to be sure, but nuclear weapons are the real threat. Iraq would still be deterrable and containable even if Saddam did have anthrax, VX, sarin, ricin, and all kinds of other chemical and biological weapons. An intrusive inspections program could make these programs unendurably difficult for Saddam to keep active.

If it turns out that Iraq hasn't had a real nuclear weapons program in place in the last five years, the real issue seems to shift substantially toward Iraq's humanitarian crisis and the long-term question of regional power centers. On these points, Thomas L. Friedman sees regime change as the only real reason to attack Iraq — not weapons of mass destruction. Unsettling the status quo in the Arab world constitutes the best reason to invade.

But without evidence of weapons of mass destruction — especially nuclear weapons — what does Bush's public case rest on? Doesn't his case weaken significantly?

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 24 January 2003 at 9:15 AM

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Next: The varieties of religious war.

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