The “War of 16 Words” enamored Washington’s chattering class, but the debate is ultimately useless and appears more reactionary than rational.
This battle over President Bush’s State of the Union claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from an unnamed African country continues to reverberate here and in Britain, whose intelligence was the basis for the claim.
Prime Minister Tony Blair also continues to receive pressure from Parliament and the press over intelligence allegations, and the rise of Howard Dean can be largely attributed to continuing war questions in America.
Although the pundits and politicos in both countries are scouring those 16 words for holes, Bush has used many more words to show Iraq’s menace and warn of its post-war danger.
Consider these 22 from a speech in Cincinnati last fall.
“We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas.”
Hundreds of thousands of gassed, burned and mutilated bodies discovered in mass graves bolster this position.
Another word analysis also needs consideration-eight words in the May 1 Bush speech in which he declared major combat operations ended:
“We have difficult work to do in Iraq.”
The prospect of a problem-free Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s regime collapsed was beyond the pale of reality, even before the war began. But such warnings as these eight words have gone relatively unnoticed in the flurry to discredit intelligence.
Media reproach when telling of guerilla-style attacks on American troops, demand when reciting stories of anti-American hatred, and express shock when terrorists target the United Nations building in Baghdad, as if the organization’s opposition to the war would shield it from terrorism.
However, reports from outside Baghdad, and from non-journalists, are increasingly positive. E-mails from soldiers and civilians alike paint a picture of Iraq contradictory to that on the front pages every day.
For example, Ken Joseph, a former peace activist, wrote from Baghdad earlier this summer: “It is not widely reported, nor fashionable to say the Americans are loved and wanted in Iraq, but in fact as they were wanted before the war, they are wanted now.
“‘We hope they stay forever’ is the true feeling of the silent majority in Iraq, contrary to what is reported,” Joseph said in a column for United Press International.
Lost in the distraction of a statement credited to the British, who have yet to back down from their claim, is the progress made in Iraq: schools are open, free press is thriving and a national government is forming.
Slow-but-steady progress does not make exciting news, and we recognize the need to hold government accountable.
But we must recognize that President Bush made a sound case for war, and that our troops are making better progress than reported. In the war of words, rationality must trump reactionism.