I don’t know — I never thought I’d say this, but maybe a not-quite-within-the-rules attack is worth it if it means no more Saddam.” This is how, last Thursday morning, I responded to my cousin’s invitation to go to D.C. with her to protest the Iraq resolution. And then I read the front page of The New York Times. Specifically, I read the front page headline story — the one revealing that Washington had known officially for twelve days that North Korea has an advanced nuclear weapons program.
For twelve days, the administration had known that another country, also designated as dangerous, has a greater nuclear arsenal than Iraq. During those twelve days, Congress debated and signed a resolution — unanimously criticized by foreign leaders — authorizing war against the Iraqi regime. The fact that the Bush administration would keep something as important as the North Korea news from the public becomes only more distressing if that news could have changed votes for war.
Would this information have changed the Congressional decision regarding Iraq? Would they have authorized war, justified by the president in large part by the potential danger of weapons Saddam may or may not have, if they had known with near certainty that another “axis-of-evil” country indeed had them?
No one would argue that had Congress known about North Korea, the debate would have shifted to consider pre-emptively striking both places; no one wants to be fighting that many wars. Nor would Congress have diverted focus from Saddam’s regime for the time being to plan for action against North Korea instead. North Korea is a different case, fighting it is a different risk, and its threat doesn’t include the nerve-wracking “insanity” factor contributed by Saddam’s notorious temperament. But if North Korea is a separate debate, irrelevant to Iraq, then why would the administration have kept this recent revelation a secret?
Perhaps they decided that disclosure of the new information would simply have confused the debate and moved the focus off of the point: how to take away the power of the unanimously-diagnosed bad guy in Iraq. But what if it hadn’t confused the debate, but instead informed it? What if the addition of an intensified threat from North Korea to the existing Iraq problem had caused Congress to view the world and its frightening problems in a new way? What if the acknowledgement of real and present and arguably unprecedented danger from not one but two points on the globe had changed their minds about the capacity for unilateral war to resolve this new kind of situation?
It seems that disclosure of the new North Korea information might have complicated the administration’s case to Congress for war on Iraq. To present the reality of a second, possibly stronger nuclear threat without calling for a pre-emptive attack there could have undermined Iraq’s nuclear threat as cause for war there — drawing attention to the United States’ other reasons for wanting war against Hussein’s regime, reasons with which Congress and the American people are perhaps less comfortable.
If this is what could have happened, and if we think more debate and consideration of worldwide opinion before passing a Congressional war resolution should have happened, then Washington’s twelve-day secrecy is upsetting. Rep. Ellen Tauscher from California, for example, now thinks that the diplomatic strategy developing to confront North Korea — the international agreement of its former friends to freeze it out economically — is “the model we should have applied to Iraq.” Unfortunately, she was not shown this model for twelve significant days — and only after she had voted for war.
It is one thing for the administration to keep secrets from the people and abide exactly by international law if it is in the name of doing a greater good more efficiently. This is the attitude that had put me behind the resolution for attack before now, in spite of the seeming contradictions in the case for it. Yet it is another thing for the administration to withhold key information as it pushes for risky and unwise decisions — which is what military action against Iraq increasingly seems to be as voices from around the world stack up against it. Indeed, Iran too insists that Bush’s regime change policy is “fully foreign to international law” and that an attack on Iraq could only make the world more dangerous.
I can only hope, now, that President Bush’s most recently professed desire to compromise with the Security Council is sincere, and not one of those “empty promises” of which he has accused Saddam Hussein. Otherwise, cousin, count me in for D.C.
Tess Wheelwright is a sophomore in Silliman College.