Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lemon Fizzes on the Banks of the Euphrates

U.S. President George W. Bush's task is to convince the United Nations, America's allies beyond Britain and the American public that war against Iraq is the next step in solving the problem of "terrorism with global reach." Did his speech to the United Nations on Sept. 12 make the case?

The president has the advantage of time in marshaling the evidence; he is not operating in a crisis situation. Since Sept. 11, 2001, many administration figures have believed that Iraq is directly linked to al-Qaida. They were quick to assert, for example, that Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi operatives in Prague, Czech Republic. But their high level of public confidence has not been supported by equally public evidence. The UN speech seemed the ideal opportunity to reveal the facts behind the charge of Iraq's complicity.

Bush needs to satisfy critics who caution that a war against Iraq will undermine the war on terrorism by fragmenting the coalition of states that supported the war in Afghanistan and provide critical assistance in gathering information and apprehending suspects. Yet the president's speech contained no "smoking gun."

There could be two reasons. The simplest is that no really convincing evidence of Iraqi involvement exists. If so, U.S. policymakers are operating on assumptions, not a causal chain of facts. Making weak information public might result in political embarrassment.

The second possibility is that producing evidence would reveal too much about intelligence sources and methods. The cost of exposing what we know and how we know it may be too high. But the president gave no suggestion of this.

In lieu of concrete information, Bush offered two arguments, one general, one more specific. The first and more subtle claim is that we face a category of enemies who have unlimited, even "mad," ambitions, and whose destructiveness is unparalleled, extending to a willingness to use weapons of mass destruction.

They are said to be at war with civilization itself. Iraq is the primary exemplar, as are terrorists of the type who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. Iraq might thus supply "the most terrible weapons" to its terrorist allies.

This argument is based on the idea that enemies with similar attributes will behave similarly and will even gravitate to each other. They must all be part of the same threat, as all communist countries were seen during the Cold War. Of course we know now that there were often great divisions among the communist countries; some were even avowed rivals or enemies.

Bush's second argument is that Iraq has violated Security Council Resolution 1373, adopted after Sept. 11, which calls on all states to renounce terrorism and prohibit terrorist organizations from operating on their territory.

Iraq is said to shelter and support terrorist organizations that attack Iran, Israel and unspecified Western countries.

Iraq is also charged with murdering its dissidents abroad.

Additionally, some al-Qaida terrorists from Afghanistan are "known to be in Iraq," according to Bush. It is interesting that these terrorists are distinguished from those that are "sheltered and supported" by Iraq. Possibly the president had in mind terrorists operating in the Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq, but the implication is not clear.

The president also cited the 1993 plot to assassinate former President George Bush in Kuwait and Iraq's praise for the Sept. 11 attackers.

It's hard to conclude that the president's speech demonstrated that a war against Iraq would pre-empt terrorism as well as Iraqi aggression.

In this area, his explanation raised as many questions as it answered.

Martha Crenshaw is a professor of global issues and democratic thought at Wesleyan University and co-editor of "The International Encyclopedia of Terrorism." She contributed this comment to Newsday.