I think this editorial from the San Jose Mercury News, September 26, 2002, frames the issue very well.
Bush hasn’t spelled out the risks or made the case; an attack on Saddam won’t make the world safer
THE Dow’s at a four-year low. Median incomes are falling and the poverty rate’s up. Airports have yet to put meaningful new security systems in place. Al-Qaida operatives are setting up shop again in Afghanistan. The Mideast conflict is again at full boil.
Feeling a little uneasy? No doubt. All the more so because none of those critical issues is the country’s top priority. Instead, the president, with a compliant Congress behind him, continues to beat the drums for war, not against the flagging economy or the Al-Qaida terrorists or the forces of violence in Israel and the occupied territories, but against Saddam Hussein.
Saddam is a menace. Military action very well may be necessary to remove him. But a world in which every nation reserves to itself the right to attack somebody else solely because it perceives its security to be at risk also isn’t a very safe place. That’s the world the president would create with the new security doctrine he released last week, and with his escalating verbal attack on Iraq.
Even those eager to help the president build his case fall short.
This week, the British released a comprehensive assessment of Iraqi military capabilities. The lengthy document says Saddam not only has chemical and biological weapons, but also the means to attack with those weapons, and quickly.
But the chemical and biological threat isn’t new; Saddam viciously has used such weapons on his own people. That portion of the British assessment cries out not for immediate war, but for a return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq, with military force to back them up if necessary to ensure that those weapons are found and destroyed.
The report also says Saddam is working to build an even scarier threat — a nuclear arsenal. But the British say Iraq is at least five years away from achieving that goal.
The timing for all of this couldn’t be dicier. Elections are six weeks away. Is it no coincidence that the White House war talk escalates just as critical congressional elections are heating up?
A cynical view? Perhaps. But it’s the view of the president’s political adviser, Karl Rove, who last winter said Republicans could use the war on terrorism in the mid-term elections this fall.
The president hasn’t made the case for war. He hasn’t spelled out the risks involved. He hasn’t defined how democracy will be made to grow in Iraq after war. He hasn’t built the kind of international coalition that his father so effectively built before the previous war.
Elections notwithstanding, conscientious Democrats and Republicans alike ought to be asking sharp questions and demanding better evidence. They and all Americans need to be told why going to war against Iraq without the full backing of the world community is in this country’s best interests.