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Listen to the Administration


The United States will go to war against Iraq. But anyone who thinks the war will be motivated by evidence of Saddam Hussein’s attempt to procure and wish to use evil weapons will be mistaken.

Despite the general claims that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have as-yet undisclosed proof of an actual serious threat, one can easily find hints that they have no proof at all. The desire for war is independent of evidence. This will be a war to control oil and to warn future client-dictators not to get uppity.

What’s my proof for saying this? It’s in the newspapers every day — in the words uttered by Bush, Blair, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Powell. Sometimes they seem to think that no one really listens to what they say.

Well, let’s listen. Tony Blair: “We haven’t the faintest idea what has been going on in the last four years other than what we know is an attempt to carry on rebuilding weapons. The details of it is something that the Iraqi regime should be forced to disclose.” That almost sounds as if Blair is saying something. But look more closely and you’ll see he’s not.

President Bush, referring to a four-year-old report that Saddam wished to have nuclear missiles: “I do not know what more evidence we need.” That moment of candor strikes a resoundingly different chord from the professions of certainty that have poured from the lips of the president and vice president lately.

Richard Haass, State Department director of policy: “We don’t know exactly the true dimension of the threat.” Could the dimensions be so small that the word “threat” is inapt?

Apparently the president will acquiesce in the oft-made request that Saddam be given one more chance to readmit the UN weapons inspectors. But this is nothing more than a fig leaf in Bush’s search for allies. There is no question that if the inspectors are allowed in and are permitted to go anywhere, Bush will still attack. It won’t be hard to conjure up some lack of cooperation by Saddam.

How can we know this? Again, listen to the administration’s own words. On many occasions Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said, “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” I’d hate to have him on my jury. What would be the evidence of absence?

Secretary of State Colin Powell, the administration “dove”: “It is not for us to prove they [Iraq] have it [weapons of mass destruction]; it is for them to prove they don’t have it.” Powell, like Rumsfeld, should repeat Logic 101. A negative cannot be proved. What would Saddam have to do to satisfy Powell? Have the entire country dug up? If nothing were found, Powell could say that the digging wasn’t deep enough. The burden of proof is on the one making a positive assertion. That’s the Bush administration. Put up or … well, you get the idea.

Furthermore, if a weapons program is uncovered, why would that indicate bad intent? Mere possession surely cannot prove bad intent. Considering the powerful U.S. and Israeli weapons aimed at him, Saddam may wish only to have a credible deterrent.

The administration’s efforts to appear reasonable know no bounds. Giving in to popular sentiment, Bush has pledged to get Congress’s approval if he decides to attack. In this case we have to “listen” to what Bush didn’t say in order to “hear” the real meaning of his pledge. When asked if a “no” vote would stay his hand … he did not respond. Had he really wanted to reassure the American people of his respect for the Constitution, he would have answered.

But he couldn’t have answered affirmatively. His people have already said he needs no authorization. He’s not going to back down from that position. Bush is like the betrothed characters in Fiddler on the Roof who ask for the patriarch’s blessing — but not his permission. Unfortunately for Bush, the Constitution requires permission.

Any congressional debate over Bush’s request for a blessing will be fixed. The troops are already being positioned and the bellicose words have been launched. No matter what, they won’t be recalled.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.