- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

President George W. Bush is not known for reticence. Yet, regarding three extraordinary questions, the administration is keeping deathly quiet. Some answers to these questions might help the administration better make its case in terms of what it intends to do in the war on terror, in rallying international support to disarm Iraq, in containing North Korea's nuclear ambitions and in protecting the homeland.
The first question is why, before Congress voted last year to authorize force to disarm Iraq of all of its nuclear and other mass destruction weapons, the administration purposely chose not to reveal to the Senate or the House that North Korea had already confessed to actively pursuing the nuclear option that we wanted to prevent Iraq from obtaining and was in "material" breach of international law and treaties it was obliged to respect?
The second question is why hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people around the world demonstrated last weekend against the United States and the need for war to disarm Iraq, and cast the Bush team and not Saddam Hussein as the villains in this piece?
Finally, why has the administration not more forcefully reacted to the enormous opportunity chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix presented in his report to the Security Council on Friday, clearly stating that if Iraq fully complied with Resolution 1441, inspectors could complete their job of verification in a very short time?
None of these questions is easy or straightforward. But surely some answers are needed. In the case of Congress' vote authorizing force to disarm Iraq of its weapons, no doubt the administration did not wish to compound its problems by coming clean on North Korea at that point. The Bush administration has often demonstrated more than a penchant for keeping its deliberations very close hold and out of public view. On that score, the General Accounting Office unsuccessfully went to court to force Vice President Dick Cheney to make public his private discussions with energy companies. Mr. Cheney, arguing executive privilege, prevailed. That, in general, is how the administration tends to view its responsibility to disclose.
Still, that the administration chose not to disclose the North Korean situation to Congress raises the question of what crucial information it may be withholding in other areas. None of this helps the administration's credibility. And, while light years away, Lyndon Johnson's decision not to reveal what really happened (or did not as it turned out) in the Tonkin Gulf incident, when asking Congress for a de facto declaration of war in Vietnam, still haunts those of us old enough to remember.
That people around the world are protesting against the United States and not the villainy of Saddam Hussein is truly extraordinary. That the administration has now become the target for such animosity and abuse is evidence that, if the Bush assessment of Iraq is right, no good deed goes unpunished. And, no matter how much Mr. Bush believes in the case to disarm Saddam, his message has not proven sufficiently convincing to rally the broad support needed to assure lasting solutions.
Finally, while much of the media is hyping the story of Mr. Blix's "sack" of the Bush administration by his report, the fact is that Mr. Blix has given the White House a huge opening. The central argument Mr. Bush is correctly making is that Saddam must comply with U.N. resolutions and disarm, or else. Mr. Blix has said, with equal correctness, that once Iraq complies with those mandates, it is an easy matter to complete the inspectors' task of confirming the destruction of all Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. So, why not ride this particular argument of compliance to the final destination of disarmament by using this Blix formula as the basis for forcing Iraq to act?
Answering these questions would help the administration greatly. And on the subject of important questions, two others are also timely. The Department of Homeland Security came out last week, with good intentions, to help the public protect itself in the event of a terrorist attack. The list of recommendations was over the top, and induced, if not panic, certainly much more concern than was justified. Why the department did not use a more commonsensical and reassuring approach of relating these precautions to ones people are used to taking in the event of natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and floods, is inexplicable.
And to make this a bipartisan interrogation, what about the loyal opposition? Where are the Democrats? Surely, criticism of a selectively quiet American in the White House, also applies to the Democrats. It is not fine only to carp and complain. Good policy suggestions would be useful.
A vibrant democracy needs debate, discussion and disclosure. Where are they when they are most needed?


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