Jewish World Review Sept. 17, 2002/ 11 Tishrei, 5763

Charles Krauthammer

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Fictional rift | So much for the great Republican split over Iraq. Just weeks ago, we were told that dissenters included the old-guard heavyweights: Brent Scowcroft, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Dick Armey and, heaviest of all, Colin Powell. Let's review the lineup.

Scowcroft wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed warning against war on Iraq on the grounds that it would irrevocably damage the war on terrorism. Yet on last week he told CNN's Judy Woodruff, "The direction the president is taking, I think, is exactly the right direction, to reach out, to get our friends, to get our allies, to get the U.N. involved. That's exactly what I was trying to get across."

Scowcroft explained: "I'm not saying don't go after him [Saddam Hussein]. I'm saying let's put it all in perspective and remember that when we go after him, we need to have the support of the world community behind us because we need that support for the war on terrorism." In other words, his original objection was to naked unilateralism on Iraq because it would fracture the worldwide coalition that Bush had assembled for the war on terrorism. Now that it is clear the administration is going to make a full-court press for allied and some kind of U.N. support, Scowcroft is on board.

Kissinger's opposition to war on Iraq was a fiction in the first place -- a case of misidentification, to use the more polite term of New York Times columnist Bill Keller and former managing editor Seymour Topping. The Times, which had made that claim on its front page, admitted in a belated correction that it had "listed Mr. Kissinger incorrectly among Republicans who were warning outright against a war."

Nonetheless, the editors' note insisted that they had gotten right the essence of Kissinger as a critic of Bush's Iraq policy: "Most centrally, Mr. Kissinger said that removing Mr. Hussein from power -- Mr. Bush's justification for war -- was not an appropriate goal."

This is comical. If this is the central distinction between Kissinger and Bush, why was there not a single mention of it in the two front-page stories the Times ran trumpeting Kissinger's alleged opposition to the Bush policy? You'd think the place for the central disagreement might be the front-page articles on that very disagreement, rather than a paragraph tucked 21/2 weeks later into an editors' note in the corrections column.

Moreover, this post facto claim is simply false. Kissinger says that regime change in Iraq is an appropriate goal. The point he made in his syndicated column, and which he continues to make, is that in its "declaratory policy" -- i.e., public posture -- the United States should emphasize weapons destruction rather than regime change in order to garner allies for the war. But our actual policy is to achieve both. After all, the goals are inseparable. Given the nature of Hussein's rule, destroying these weapons requires regime change.

So much for Kissinger. What, then, is left of the great Republican split? James Baker? Baker has said that "the only realistic way to effect regime change in Iraq is through the application of military force" but has argued for going first to the United Nations. Now that we are, in fact, following the Baker recommendation, what is the basis for calling him an opponent?

That leaves Colin Powell, supposedly the epicenter of internal opposition to the hard line on Iraq. Well, this is Powell last Sunday on national television: "It's been the policy of this government to insist that Iraq be disarmed. . . . And we believe the best way to do that is with a regime change." Moreover, he added, we are prepared "to act unilaterally to defend ourselves." When Powell, the most committed multilateralist in the administration, deliberately invokes the incendiary U-word to describe the American position, we have ourselves a consensus.

It turns out that the disagreement among Republicans was less about going to Iraq than about going to the United Nations. It was a vastly overblown disagreement, because even the most committed unilateralist would rather not go it alone if possible. Of course you want allies. You just don't want to be held hostage to their veto. And as the first President Bush demonstrated when he declared that the United States would liberate Kuwait unilaterally if necessary, the best way to get allies is to let others know you are prepared to go it alone and let them ponder the cost of missing the train.

So what's left of the Republican revolt? Dick Armey, the sage of Lewisville, Tex., has been telling people that, sure, Iraq may have nuclear weapons, but so does France, and if you ask him, he's got more of a problem with France than with Iraq.

The world now waits to see whether the Democrats will join Armey at the barricades.

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