Reserving our venom for Bush while ignoring Saddam


Too many are content to condemn President Bush without considering if he is right about Saddam, writes Niall O'Dowd

A reporter for the Irish Voice was in the departure lounge of Shannon Airport a few weeks back when an aircraft full of American soldiers arrived en route to the Persian Gulf. He watched what he called the cold and contemptuous greeting the troops received as they shopped in the duty- free, adding mightily to the coffers of the airport.

One soldier caught his eye, an African-American woman distraught as she talked to her husband and infant child back in the States on the phone. He saw the disapproving stares and the turning away as the woman essentially broke down and he says for the first time in his life he was ashamed to be Irish-American. He wrote that "the land of 100,000 welcomes couldn't spare just one for this lonely American woman that day" .

Whatever you think of President Bush, the men and women on their way to the Gulf, mostly African- American and Hispanic reservists at the very bottom of the pay scale, surely deserve better from the Irish. The usual moral superiority, however, seems to make even the most basic human gestures impossible.

But is such moral superiority justified? In all of the cacophony of protests in Ireland against the likely war there is one key question that is rarely if ever discussed. What if Bush is right?

It is an issue which is consuming the United States at present, yet the fact that America is roughly split down the middle on whether to go to war or not does not seem to register abroad. The reality is that the discussion in Ireland is utterly one-sided. The fact that a compelling argument for war can be made is utterly overlooked in the race to man the barricades against the ugly Americans.

What is that argument? Consider what the United Nations, not the US, has reported about Iraq. They concluded in 1999 that he had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 litres of anthrax, enough to kill several million people. As someone who lived through an anthrax attack in New York and saw how lethal and how easily spread it can be, there is every reason to be worried.

Consider, too, that the UN also found that Saddam has materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 litres of botulinum toxin, enough to kill several million people and there is now no trace of it.

US intelligence also estimates that he has materials to produce 500 tons of sarin gas and XV gas and over 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. They also state that in the late 1990s Saddam had several mobile biological labs to produce germ warfare agents.

What does he want with these weapons, if not to use them against his perceived enemies? Why is he currently hiding them from UN inspectors as the chief UN arms inspector Hans Blix stated the other day in a highly critical report? Are the Americans stupid for asking this question? I don't think so.

Then we have compelling evidence of how he treats his own people, something referred to by President Bush in his State of the Union speech. Those who argue for a moral approach and no war must listen to the moral argument on the other side.

Iraqi refugees tell how forced confessions were obtained by torturing children while their parents watched. As Bush pointed out, international human rights groups have reported that electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues and rape are tortures used against the Iraqi people.

RECENTLY, a New York Times reporter gave an unforgettable account of visiting one of Iraq's main prisons after Saddam, in a clever public relations move, released all the inmates. In the execution rooms he saw rows of meat hooks still glistening with blood. He saw blood on the walls and pathetic piles of clothes, all the pants soiled, worn by the prisoners who were forced to strip before their execution and watch those in front of them die.

Then of course there is the reality that Saddam has used poison gas against his own people, in fact on whole Kurdish villages after the last Gulf War, leaving thousands dead. As Bush stated: "If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning."

Who cannot agree with that statement? Is such a man capable of trying to murder millions more or conspire to? I think the answer is definitely yes. Is there not a compelling case on that evidence alone to rid the world of this megalomaniac? There is certainly an argument for doing so, something very few in Ireland will even grant this President of the United States.

What of the people of Iraq, whose fate in a war understandably occupies the minds of most of the protesters. Bush spoke directly to them when he said: "Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country".

Could there be truth in that? Is there a scenario where Iraqis may well welcome the advancing American army as saviours freeing them from a Hitler-like dictator and a dark night of the soul? There seems at least a reasonable chance that might well be the case. Remember that in the last Gulf War his troops deserted in their tens of thousands as the Allied forces advanced, showing that loyalty to Saddam Hussein was skin deep.

If that were to happen, who could argue that Bush was wrong to replace an odious dictator, especially when the full extent of his murderous behaviour becomes evident and his secret stash of chemical and biological weapons is exposed?

As a life-long Democrat I will never vote for George Bush. Yet in the past few weeks I have become more uncertain of whether he is right or wrong to go to war in Iraq. Like most others in America, I believe he has to have full United Nations backing if he does go to war, but I am edging closer to an understanding of why it may be necessary to do so.

It is not acceptable for the peace lobby to qualify why Saddam should not be replaced by statements like "I know he is an evil dictator but ". Europe knows more than anywhere on Earth about evil dictators and what horrors they can achieve if left unchecked. Saddam is just the latest in a long inglorious line of such men.

The reality is that his people and the world would be very well rid of him.

"Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not an option," George Bush has said. We should at least admit he has a point.

Niall O'Dowd is founder of Irish America magazine and the Irish Voice newspaper in New York