Nobody Likes Saddam

So do you think America should go to war with Iraq?

The question is not idle.

This week, members of Congress and the Bush administration met with Jewish leaders in Washington to discuss President George W. Bush’s resolution on Iraq. While administration officials did not ask directly for Jewish support, some GOP congressmen did call for an active Jewish lobbying campaign on behalf of the Iraq resolution, reports our Washington correspondent James Besser.

Whether you approve or not, the groups who will lobby do so on your behalf. So now would be a good time to make up your mind, and make your voice heard.

Right now, it’s fair to say that the country’s 6.1 million Jews are of about that many minds when it comes to war with Iraq. Experts on both sides are hitting each other’s arguments back and forth like Venus and Serena.

There is no agreement on Iraq’s unconventional weapons capability. There is no agreement on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s willingness to use those weapons on a more powerful force rather than on, say, Kurdish children. There is no agreement on whether the aftermath of a successful "regime change" would plunge Iraq’s three large ethnic groups into murderous chaos or jump-start its highly literate and oppressed people toward democracy.

There is no agreement on whether America, in acting nearly unilaterally to attack Iraq, will alienate important allies and undermine the United Nations. Perhaps it will, by asserting its leadership, put both cowards and dictators on notice. There is no agreement on whether American forces can get rid of Hussein, and at what cost in American and innocent Iraqi lives. Some say ousting Iraq is the linchpin in America’s war on terror, others say it is a distraction.

Many Jews are inclined to agree with former Vice President Al Gore, whom they supported overwhelmingly for president in 2000. In a speech earlier this week in San Francisco, Gore bashed into Bush’s Iraq policy and called it a smoke screen for his failure to extirpate Al Qaeda. Or perhaps Jews would agree instead with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Gore’s former running mate. On Oct. 15, Lieberman said the United States must be "unflinching in our determination to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq before he, emboldened by Sept. 11, strikes at us with weapons of mass destruction." That’s right: he said it Oct. 15, 2001.

The sides in this debate do not split Democrat and Republican, left and right, hawkish and dovish. As numerous pundits have pointed out, many experts with actual combat experience oppose rushing into war, while many of the officials who favor it never saw a uniform, much less combat.

Israelis, who have seen much terror and war, support immediate American military action against Hussein. Perhaps more than any other country besides Iraq, Israel will feel the war’s effect. Some argue that war on Iraq will bring about an immediate and perhaps devastating attack on Israel. Other experts say the Iraqi threat to Israel will only increase, so better to stop it now.

With so much in dispute, are there any points of accord? Nobody likes Hussein. Experts agree that he is developing and stockpiling chemical and biological weapons, and at least trying to develop nuclear ones. But how soon will he be able to deliver these weapons, and, knowing the cost, why would Hussein, the consummate survivor, even want to? On these points, experts disagree.

No wonder, then, when GOP officials asked Jewish leaders to get behind the president’s resolution on Iraq, the leaders offered only qualified support for now. The board of the Union of American Hebrew Congregation voted in favor of U.S. action against Iraq, on the condition that the United States first try all possible diplomatic solutions and that Bush not act with explicit congressional support, Besser reported. The American Jewish Congress is working out a statement of support, as is The Conference of President of Major Jewish Organizations. The Conference represents 52 Jewish organizations nationwide and speaks to elected officials as the consensus voice of American Jewry. Its opinion in such sweeping policy matters can be important. Ideally, it reflects the positions of its member groups, which receive input from their constituents, like you.

But how do you go about deciding whether to support the Bush resolution or not? By turning to Bush. The president, in speeches, articles, interviews and especially in press conferences, needs to be as precise and as forthcoming as possible. He needs to provide, as Sen. Arlen Spector (R.-Pa.) has written, "information amplifying the specifics on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction; the precise details concerning U.N. efforts to conduct inspections in Iraq, and Iraq’s refusals; the type of a military action necessary to topple Hussein, including estimates of American casualties, and how a post-war regime in Iraq is envisioned."

The president has yet to do this, and the ball is in his court.