Iraq attack? Forum follows Senate hearings

Timing is everything.
A year ago, a forum on “The American Policy Dilemma in Iraq” might not have drawn much of a crowd in Charlottesville. Malnutrition and disease, long-lasting fallout from the Gulf War and a decade of U.S.-led U.N. sanctions, still killed thousands of Iraqi children every month.
But as long as Saddam Hussein was safely “contained,” who really cared about Iraq?
Now, all that’s changed. Last week’s Senate hearings and Pentagon leaks to the press about the Bush administration’s plans for war on Iraq have sparked a blaze of public controversy that is sure to swell the turnout for Richard L. Russell’s August 12 talk at the Miller Center.
Can the U.S. launch an unprovoked “preventive” strike against Saddam, in defiance of international law? What threat does Iraq pose to justify spending billions of taxpayer dollars and sending hundreds of thousands of American troops into danger? How many more innocent Iraqi civilians will be killed?
Russell, a 17-year CIA veteran who now teaches at the National Defense University, can be expected to support Bush’s pro-war agenda. (Last year, Russell published an essay, described by the Washington Post as “unusually bellicose,” suggesting China was a growing international threat.)
But is Iraq a menace? The administration has yet to come up with any evidence linking Saddam Hussein, a secularist, to the Muslim al Qaeda network or the September 11 attacks. And critics cast serious doubt on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s claims that Iraq is hiding chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.
“I believe that Iraq does not pose a threat to the U.S. worthy of war,” says former Marine and chief arms inspector Scott Ritter, quoted in a recent UPI article. (Ritter spent seven years in Iraq after the Gulf War, tracking down and destroying hidden missiles, bombs, and factories for the U.N.) Iraq’s neighbors appear to share his unconcern; Turkey, Jordan, and even Kuwait have shown little interest in joining a war against Iraq.
If Iraq has actually risen from the ashes with new weapons of mass destruction, others point out, an attempted coup by the U.S. might very well push Saddam into using them. And setting up a new regime would have enormous long-term costs.
Some critics suggest that the recent media blitz is intended to get Americans— and skeptical allies— “used to” the idea of war on Iraq. The more we hear of various invasion scenarios, the more inevitable an attack of some kind seems. The antidote? Timely public forums like this one, perhaps, while it’s still not too late to ask questions.

Former CIA political-military analyst Richard L. Russell speaks about “The American Policy Dilemma in Iraq” at the  Miller Center, 2201 Old Ivy Road, Monday, August 12, at 11am. Free and open to the public. 924-0921

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