- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

President Bush sent a top aide last week to explain to Turkish leaders why Saddam Hussein needs to be removed and why they should support U.S. measures to achieve that goal. Great idea. Why not try it with Congress and the American people?
The president and his aides have been dropping hints about their intention to take out Hussein since September, and few people in Washington have expressed any objections. Last month, House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt went out of his way to endorse an attack on Iraq. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, Delaware Democrat, has said pretty much the same thing. In the current climate, nobody wants to sound insufficiently warlike.
But now some people on Capitol Hill are suggesting that Congress ought to do something besides salute the flag and applaud the president. Both House and Senate committees are planning to hold hearings on Iraq later this summer to consider the wisdom and practical requirements of the whole undertaking. And how has the White House responded? By telling Congress to take a long walk off a short pier.
The administration has informed those pipsqueaks at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue that it won't even let any of its officials participate in the hearings to make the case for attacking Iraq. Why? Because, as one Bush insider told the New York Times, "President Bush has still not decided how to achieve his state goal of removing President Saddam Hussein, and that military plans must remain secret."
Well, nobody is asking the Pentagon to put out a news release announcing the date and zip code where the 82nd Airborne will be landing. For that matter, the president is welcome to take his time figuring out the best method to usher Saddam into the next world. But those modest limitations are no reason the American people can't be apprised of what will be involved if we decide to invade a sovereign nation whose government has weapons of mass destruction.
This is, after all, a matter of some importance to the well-being of the American people. They might like to hear the pros and cons before the war begins rather than discover them afterward. This is not a case where we find ourselves under military attack and the president has to act quickly, without wasting precious time yakking. The Iraq invasion has been under consideration since the first days of the Bush presidency. And administration officials say it may not happen until next year.
While they're keeping mum at home, they've shown no reluctance to air the issue with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah of Jordan. Apparently these secrets are safe with foreign despots. It's only democratically elected American lawmakers who can't be trusted.
We could profitably use the months ahead for a full national discussion of this looming war. But Mr. Bush and his advisers prefer to spend the months ahead energetically suppressing discussion.
The secrecy rationale is a convenient excuse for a president who thinks Vice President Richard B. Cheney's shoe size ought to be classified. Mr. Bush regards "public information" as a contradiction in terms. But it's not Congress that's the real threat to secrecy. The Pentagon's war plans were splashed all over the front page of the New York Times just a couple of weeks ago, and it's safe to assume they came straight from the Pentagon.
If he reads the American papers, Saddam now knows we may hit him with tens or hundreds of thousands of troops coming from the north, south and west, and from land, sea and air. You think that's a big surprise?
Congress is not really interested in publicizing facts that might help Saddam repel an invasion. But some members might like to know what exactly makes his removal so critical all of a sudden. They could ask how many Americans may die for this purpose, and whether the gains justify the sacrifice. Lawmakers might also try to find out what we expect to replace Saddam with, how easy that chore will be, and how long American troops will have to stay in Iraq.
It's not likely that after hearing the answers, lawmakers will rise up in opposition. In fact, most members would probably trample each other to show their support for military action. The consensus that would most likely emerge in both Congress and the citizenry would be stronger for being based on knowledge rather than ignorance.
Surely the administration could come up with a persuasive case that would bring the nation together with a commitment to do whatever is necessary.
Or maybe not.


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