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Dissension in the Ranks?
August 14, 2002
By Patrick Ennis

As George W. Bush moves ever closer to donning his ten-gallon Commander-in-Chief hat and sending troops toward Baghdad to finish what his father started more than a decade ago, his hawkishness is receiving criticism from all the usual corners (read: liberals and Democrats). But it comes also from at least one unexpected and very prominent corner - that of outgoing House Majority Leader Dick Armey.

Speaking in Des Moines, Iowa on August 8, Armey said "My own view would be to let him bluster, let him rant and rave all he wants. As long as he behaves himself within his own borders, we should not be addressing any attack or resources against him... If we try to act against Saddam Hussein, as obnoxious as he is, without proper provocation, we will not have the support of other nation states who might do so."

Now, it isn't like Texas Republicans, who usually tend to stick together like old-fashioned mafiosi, to oppose their own Don Capo's wishes in public. Did I mention that Mr. Armey, who once called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Israel, is the outgoing House Majority Leader? As Janis Joplin sang, freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose. For the first time in, well, in a long time, Armey can really afford to speak his mind, and to take his lumps for it.

Bill O'Reilly, host of "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox "News" Channel and still part of the clubby conservative cabal - he works for Rupert Murdoch, after all - was careful not to rebuke Armey too directly, but criticized his stance, saying, "So what Mr. Armey's policy seems to be is, wait and see if Saddam uses the weapons he is trying to develop. But some other Americans and people all over the world agree with Mr. Armey. However, it doesn't make any sense to Talking Points. And indeed, a new Fox News poll shows that 69 percent of Americans would support a U.S. attack on Iraq." A Fox News poll, Bill? Yeah, that's convincing.

But now that Mr. Armey has a measure of freedom of speech and is taking advantage of it, he has a point. The reports of Saddam's "provocation" are anything but concrete, and would be more credible if the post-Sept. 11 anthrax mail attacks hadn't been initially blamed on Iraq, in a suspicious rush to judgment, before the deadly concoction turned out to be home grown. It also would be more believable if the current President Bush, and the whole Bush clan, weren't suffering a legacy of perceived failure for not having taken Saddam out when he had the chance in 1991. But then if he had, we wouldn't be having this debate now, would we?

It is true that the Iraqi dictator is guilty of paying off the families of Palestinian suicide bombers to the tune of $25,000 each, which is clearly indefensible. And yet, he's not the only one. His isn't even the only government in the region to overtly abet terrorism in Israel. The Iranian parliament has long earmarked funds in its annual budget for Hezbollah guerillas operating in Lebanon. And there are private donors in Saudi Arabia and Egypt and probably some others who do the same covertly. And these are countries with rather autocratic governments which would presumably have the ability to curb the practice if they chose. So why isn't the administration rattling its saber at them?

It is also true that some former UN weapons inspectors believe that Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programs were anything but destroyed during the Gulf War and in the subsequent 7 years of UN inspections, but I stress that this is only speculation. In fact, former marine officer and chief weapons inspector Scott Ritter suspects just the opposite. He also suspects that the impending carnage of Gulf War II has more to do with election year politics than any real threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. What the first Gulf War did for his father's approval rating is certainly not lost on this President

The Columbus Dispatch, hardly part of the infamous, albeit invisible, "liberal media elite" said in an August 9 editorial, "President Bush's attempt to invoke Sept. 11 as an excuse for war with Baghdad just doesn't add up. There is little evidence of Iraqi involvement in the terrorist attack and, in fact, a connection would not make sense. Saddam's hostility to the West is not based on religious ideology, as is that of Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaida terrorist network... If there is to be a war against Iraq, there must be a good reason. If there is a compelling case, neither Congress nor the president have made it."

And we still don't even know what the post-Saddam future of Iraq is supposed to look like. Barbaric as he is Saddam has ruled Iraq since 1979, and to oust him would create a power vacuum in this strategically located, oil-rich nation. Are there suitable candidates to replace him, despite Saddam's reputation for the brutal elimination of political rivals? Or will post-Saddam Iraq be ruled by an U.S. backed puppet regime? I wonder what that would do for the price of a gallon of gas on Main Street?

Dick Armey is not the only member of President Bush's party to be hanging up his electoral hat in the near future, but he is so far the only prominent Republican to criticize the White House's stated desire to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Perhaps others will follow, now that Mr. Armey has set the precedent. If so, then we may finally have the bi-partisan cooperation we were promised during the 2000 election campaigns.


Patrick Ennis: articulating the viewpoint of the secular, liberal, midwestern working class because, frankly, somebody has to, and nobody else is.

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