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Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2003 / 25 Shevat, 5763

Roger Simon

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JFK confronts Saddam | As we hurtle toward war in Iraq, I can't help but think of what President John F. Kennedy did when he was preparing for the possibility of war over Cuba.

Cuba was installing Soviet missiles that were capable of hitting the East Coast of the United States within minutes of being fired.

There was no real defense against such missiles -- today we would call them weapons of mass destruction -- and Kennedy had to stop them from becoming operational.

So he decided to throw up a naval blockade around Cuba -- an act of war -- and turn back the Soviet ships carrying more missiles to Cuba.

Kennedy's actions were based on solid evidence: He had spy-plane photographs of the missiles being put in place.

And before Kennedy threw up the blockade in what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, he did an important thing: He shared his evidence with the American people.

He went on TV, and put the enlarged spy pictures on an easel, and pointed out the missiles and the missile sites.

Though some argued that such intelligence should be kept secret, Kennedy knew that if he was risking war, he needed the American people behind him and the American people needed to see the evidence.

More than that, the American people deserved to see the evidence. The war might cost American lives, and the lives would be theirs.

The Bush administration seems to believe the American people no longer need evidence, no longer deserve evidence.

The Bush administration seems to believe that the American people have so much trust in their government and their president that they will accept war and its agonies on good faith.

But I don't think so. I think the American people want to see some proof.

I think we want to see the proof that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.

I think we want to see the proof that Saddam Hussein is a clear and present danger to his neighbors or to us.

Democratic senators who serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee and who are supposed to have access to such intelligence say no such proof has been presented to them.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says such evidence is not needed.

He says that everybody knows Iraq possesses such weapons. "The burden of proof is not on the United Nations or on the inspectors to prove that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction," Rumsfeld says. "The burden of proof is on the Iraqi regime to prove that it is disarming, as required by the successive UN resolutions."

Meanwhile, the United States keeps building up its forces around Iraq and within a month is expected to have 150,000 troops in place.

Once those troops are in place, they cannot be kept there indefinitely. They have to be used or withdrawn.

Right now, it's a pretty good bet that they are going to be used regardless of what the UN weapons inspectors find or do not find in Iraq.

This has some people worried, including our staunchest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Blair backs the forcible disarming of Saddam Hussein, but he doesn't see what all the rush is about. He doesn't see why we don't just give the weapons inspectors more time.

"I don't believe it will take them months to find out whether he's cooperating or not," Blair says. "But they should have whatever time they need."

But "whatever time they need" is exactly what the United States does not want to supply.

Secretary of State Collin Powell, who used to be dovish on war, is now turning hawkish. "How much more time does Iraq need?" he asked a few days ago, adding that the United States reserves the right "to take military action against Iraq alone, or in a coalition of the willing."

But does that "coalition of the willing" include the American people?

Do the American people really have the proof they need?

Do you really believe the president has made a good case for war and for war now?

As someone once said, I am not worried that George Bush is dumb. I am worried that he thinks we're dumb.

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