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    A Times Editorial

    Iraq questions

    Military experts and Republican allies of the president are voicing some of the strongest criticism of the White House's plans for toppling Saddam Hussein.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 11, 2002

    The most persuasive criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq war plans is coming from prominent Republicans who support the president on almost all other issues. Most leading Democrats have been silent, perhaps out of fear of being labeled overly partisan or even unpatriotic. But when knowledgeable Republicans raise moral and practical concerns about attempting to overthrow Saddam Hussein without direct provocation, the Bush administration would be wise to heed their counsel.

    House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a fellow Texas Republican who has been closely allied with the president, issued a particularly blunt warning last week.

    "I don't believe that America will justifiably make an unprovoked attack on another nation," Armey said. "It would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or what we should be as a nation." Armey said such an attack on Iraq would violate international law, win sympathy for Hussein and undermine support for the war against terrorism.

    Armey is leaving Congress at the end of this term and sounds suddenly liberated, but other Republican leaders have raised similar warnings. Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., two of the most respected members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, agree with Armey that conditions in Iraq do not yet justify a pre-emptive attack on Hussein's regime. While they acknowledge that Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction may eventually warrant a pre-emptive strike, they do not accept the White House's fanciful new doctrine of "anticipatory self-defense."

    Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, also has raised important questions about the feasibility of an invasion of Iraq.

    "Would we further destabilize the entire Middle East if we took military action against (Hussein)?" Hagel asked recently. "Who would be our allies? And what kind of support would there be inside Iraq? These kinds of questions are critical. You could inflame the entire Middle East plus Iran."

    Hagel's questions were largely rhetorical. He knows the United States would have to act virtually alone. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Arab governments that aided the American-led coalition during the Persian Gulf war have publicly warned the Bush administration to back off now. Virtually all of our European allies would sit this one out, too.

    Top Pentagon officials naturally have been reticent in public, but it has been widely reported that members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military planners have expressed misgivings in private about the potential casualties and costs of a unilateral invasion of Iraq.

    Their views were voiced by Brent Scowcroft, now chairman of the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Scowcroft, who served as former President George H.W. Bush's national security adviser, warned earlier this month that a U.S. invasion of Iraq "could turn the entire region into a cauldron and, thus, destroy the war on terrorism."

    With so many prominent Republicans expressing such stark political and military concerns, why has the Bush administration made an imminent invasion of Iraq seem all but inevitable? Blame a relative handful of ideologues inside and outside the White House. They share a black-and-white view of the world -- and, almost without exception, a lack of personal experience with military service.

    President Bush's father built a formidable international alliance and won formal support from Congress before launching a war in the Persian Gulf, and that political consensus was crucial to the campaign's military success. The crisis is less urgent now; Iraq has not re-invaded Kuwait and poses no immediate threat to its neighbors.

    President Bush has said he will consult with Congress before ordering an invasion, but he hasn't promised to ask for a congressional vote authorizing an attack. The Iraq ideologues at least should be able to defend their rationale for war against Hussein in a public debate. However, the White House refused to cooperate with recent congressional hearings on the issue. The Bush administration has adequate time to make its case to Congress and the American people.

    The failure to do so will suggest the president isn't confident he can allay the concerns being expressed by people such as Armey, Hagel and Scowcroft.

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