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Many Americans have at one time or another dismissed President Bush’s talk of conquering Iraq as a “weapon of mass distraction.” Even if Bush’s war cries are just talk, his words have had far-reaching effects.
Certainly, Bush has much to distract us from. The budget deficit. His administration’s ties to Enron. His NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY blueprint to dominate the world by military force. Shredding the anti ballistic missile defense treaty. Blocking investigation into the security failures before September 11. Saying No to the global warming treaty. Disappearing civil liberties. Corporate scandals and 401(k) meltdowns.
And the War on Terrorism, which appears about as successful as the War on Poverty. Last month, CIA Director George Tenet warned Congress, “The threat environment we find ourselves in today is as bad as it was last summer, the summer before 9/11.”
Bush’s shoving us toward war with Iraq, however, is not mere distraction from these failings. It’s a serious disruption, like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. According to the evidence, Iraq has no weapons that seriously threaten us, is unlikely to obtain any, and is unlikely to attack us.
Bush’s bellicose talk has splintered our government. Former Bush Sr. officials have publicly blasted Bush Jr.’s plans. So have many generals. Civilians at the Pentagon have created their own intelligence agency, because Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, disagree with the CIA’s assessment that Iraq has no links to Al Qaeda.
Congress’s agenda was upended. The forced, rushed vote on Iraq preempted debate over many more pressing issues during the run-up to midterm elections. One such issue is how to deal with North Korea: Bush kept Pyongyang’s revelations about its nuclear program secret until only after Congress signed and sealed its approval for him to use violence against Iraq. Might Congress have voted differently if members knew yet another war was possible? Might they have sought to delay their Iraq vote and develop a coherent policy?
War talk has disrupted ordinary Americans’ lives, especially military reservists and National Guardsmen who wonder if they’ll be mobilized. Young men and their families fear a draft. Those poised to fight worry that if they survive, they might suffer the fate of thousands of Gulf War vets who have succumbed to the mysterious Gulf War Syndrome.
The rest of us are riveted to the news. Thousands of Americans have felt compelled to protest in Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco, Boston and other cities. Thousands more have called, written or visited their elected representatives. Many of these people had never petitioned or marched before.
Countless lives in other nations have also been disrupted by President Bush’s war talk. People know death and destruction could easily spill over Iraq’s borders. And that their country could be next on Bush’s blacklist.
Business has been disrupted, too — the stock market shudders, and the price of oil has risen steadily with the fear that war will shrink supply. Many corporations are scrambling to change forecasts and plans. Instability can hamper growth and lead to recession.
Bush’s war talk endangers our nation’s security. Turmoil and turf battles in our government can choke the flow of information and thought. The talk has alienated foreign allies, whose best efforts are crucial to preventing terror attacks in the U.S. Many Arabs see themselves in the crosshairs of a new crusade — thousands could seek solace in fanaticism.
Moreover, many officials and experts warn that by invading Iraq, we will increase the threat that Saddam will unleash whatever weapons he does have. Even if we don’t invade, this persistent talk of war alone could provoke terrorism. These horrors might be reasonable tradeoffs if it were probable that Saddam would attack us without provocation. But the evidence suggests otherwise.
The Bush Disruption reflects an enormous abuse of presidential power. Bush is either irrationally scared of Saddam, has a hidden agenda, or has used threats of war to disrupt elections and solidify his power. Of course, presidents should discuss how to address possible, future threats to our security, but creating hysteria and pledging to wage a war that is unwarranted is something altogether different.
And by pushing so hard without strong evidence, Bush has jeopardized whether we will believe him if he ever finds a genuine threat to our security.
BRIAN J. FOLEY is a professor at Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. He can be reached at Brian.J.Foley@law.widener.edu.