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Outside View: Looking for War with Iraq

By SHELDON RICHMAN, An UPI Outside View commentary

FAIRFAX, Va., Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Yeah, right. Even though Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has now agreed to unconditional weapons inspection, the world is going to support a U.S. war against Iraq because he hasn't released his political prisoners or returned Kuwaiti property. Those acts of omission aren't exactly the stuff of a global threat.

It is turning out that Saddam is a better chess player than President George W. Bush. I don't mean that Saddam will avoid war. Make no mistake, Bush will have his little war. He just won't have it with the support of anyone but British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Israeli government. That is something of a victory for Saddam and blow to Bush.

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Can you imagine going to war over political prisoners and unreturned property? I'm not making light of those transgressions, but how many U.S. allies are guilty of holding political prisoners? Allies including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, the central Asian former Soviet republics, just to name a few, hardly have clean hands in the human-rights department. The Bush administration's line plumbs new depths of cynicism. It seems to think the world, and especially the United States, is peopled with idiots.

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Let's face it. Bush doesn't give a hoot about anything but "regime change" in Iraq, because his administration needs a leader there who adopts the U.S. oil-and-Israel agenda in the Middle East as his own.

Saddam, who was always brutal and manipulative, was a close ally as long as he did the U.S. government's bidding. The moment he went independent he had to go. The U.S. agenda, which existed long before the mega-terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, cannot be pursued with a non-cooperative president in a country as big and influential as Iraq in the Arab world. U.S. policymakers have always been far more concerned about Arab and Iranian nationalism than any other "threat" in that region, including the now-defunct Soviet threat.

After Iraq has a new and pliant regime, the Bush administration can move on to the next item on the agenda: Iran, which has also shown interest in gaining nuclear weapons. Why anyone would think that the major powers of the Middle East shouldn't be interested in such weapons is mysterious -- until one understands the U.S. program.

Israel has had many nuclear weapons for at least 30 years. It is not a signer of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and does not permit international inspection. Iraq is and does. For a long time Israel refused to even acknowledge it has nuclear weapons, even though one of its specialists, Mordechai Vanunu, wrote a book about them some years ago, was kidnapped by Israeli agents in London and was imprisoned for life.

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In other words, Israel is the nuclear monopolist in the region, and its unconditional patron is the most powerful government on earth, the only government to have actually dropped atomic bombs -- on innocent people. Israel has occupied Palestinian territory relentlessly since the 1967, in a war it launched preemptively. It bombed the Osirak nuclear facility in Iraq in 1981, a facility the International Energy Agency had said was being used only for peaceful purposes. It invaded Lebanon in 1982, killing more than 17,000 Lebanese and Palestinians.

Is it so puzzling that Iraq and Iran might want a deterrent to Israeli action? I am no fan those governments, but one cannot infer aggressive intent from their desire to have powerful weapons. As Israel's defenders like to say, it's a tough neighborhood, and as much as we try to ignore this fact, Israel is one of the toughs.

Journalist Eric Margolis reminds us that among the UN resolutions passed in 1990 was one calling for a regional approach to nuclear disarmament. That resolution the United States is happy to ignore because it would require Israel to dismantle its arsenal. That's why the Bush administration has to trump up charges against Saddam.

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I hope I am wrong, but I fear war is inevitable. Anyone who wishes to see what kind of deadly game the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Perle Axis is playing need only ask himself this: Short of suicide, what could Saddam Hussein have offered that the Bush administration would not have dismissed as "a tactical step by Iraq in hopes of avoiding strong UN Security Council action"?

{Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of Ideas on Liberty magazine.)

(Outside View commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in issues of public interest.)

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