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Pawn Takes Knight

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Yeah, right. Even though 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’s turning out that Hussein is a better chess player than President Bush. I don’t mean that Hussein will avoid war. Make no mistake, Mr. Bush will have his little war. He just won’t have it with the support of anyone but Tony Blair and the Israeli government. That’s something of a victory for Hussein and blow to Mr. Bush.

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.

Let’s face it. Mr. 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. Hussein, 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 9/11, cannot be pursued with a noncooperative 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 it refused to even acknowledge it has nuclear weapons, even though one of its specialists wrote a book about them some years ago, was kidnapped by Israeli agents in London, and was imprisoned for life.

CORRECTION (posted 1/13/03): The Israeli nuclear technician who revealed Israel’s nuclear-weapons program, Mordechai Vanunu, did not write a book about the program. Rather he told his story to the Sunday Times of London. Just before the story’s publication, Vanunu was lured from London to Rome by a female Mossad agent, where he was abducted, taken back to Israel, tried by military tribunal, and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He is due to be released next year. A book on the case, Dimona The Third Temple? The Story Behind the Vanunu Revelation, was written by Mark Gaffney and published in 1989. Sheldon Richman regrets the errors.

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 a 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.

The 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 Hussein.

I hope I’m 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”?

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of 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.