Jewish World Review May 5, 2003 / 3 Iyar, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Truth or Consequences: To win Arab liberals' trust, Bush needs to find Iraq's WMDs | On Thursday night aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, President Bush's inspirational declaration of American purpose was clouded by a vexing question: Where are Iraq's weapons of mass destruction?

It is a question the President will have to answer honestly if he wants Arab support in the coming battles in the war against Islamic fascism.

There can be little doubt by now that Bush is a terrific wartime leader. He has rare gifts: strategic vision, strong nerves, a decisive style and the self-confidence to delegate authority to strong personalities.

But in the pursuit of Arab supporters, the President's greatest gift is his innocence. The Middle East is a region long paralyzed by its own cynicism. Bush's advantage is that he seemingly doesn't know what is impossible. From the deck of the Lincoln, he said with potentially thrilling naiveté that anyone in the Arab world "who works and sacrifices for freedom has a loyal friend in the United States of America."

In effect, the President is reaching out to Arab liberals with a personal assurance that it is safe to come out of the closet and go over to the American side. But for this assurance to be credited, the President's integrity has to be unquestionable. And it won't be until his rationale for going to war is clarified.

Bush launched the invasion of Iraq largely on the assertion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He was very emphatic about this, and very specific. The President sent Secretary of State Powell to the United Nations to make this case based on extremely detailed accusations.

Accusations that are still unproven.

Granted, it's still early. Iraq is a big country. Saddam's people were expert at hiding things. Some biological and chemical warheads may have been destroyed before the fighting or stolen in its aftermath. Systems could have been moved to Syria. A nd, sure, not having found weapons of mass destruction doesn't mean that they are a figment of the President's imagination. After all, Saddam himself hasn't been found yet, and he certainly existed.

But still ...

The U.S. already has captured a number of Iraqi leaders in a position to know where the weapons are. Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz is in custody. So is a former head of Iraqi military intelligence. And the general who led Saddam's missile program. And the ex-director of Iraq's unconventional-arms program.

We now know that Abdel Tawab Mullah Huweish is also in American hands. Huweish, No. 16 on the most-wanted list, was the director of Iraq's Office of Military Industrialization, a body in charge of arms development.

A few weeks ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Iraqis themselves will lead the U.S. to Saddam's unconventional arsenals. These are the kind of Iraqis Bush was talking about.

Don't get me wrong. I personally favored the invasion of Iraq, weapons of mass destruction or no. Saddam was an evil and dangerous thug, and getting rid of him was a heroic act. If it turns out that Bush was wrong about the chemical and biological weapons, I can live with it.

Most Americans feel the same way, and Bush's domestic critics are aware of it. As Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) told the Aberdeen (S.D.) American News on Thursday, "Regime change was a legitimate goal. It was accomplished, and I think that's laudable in and of its own right."

The world is less likely to give the President such a generous pass. Most world opinion doesn't matter much; Bush will have no credibility in Old Europe or the Old Middle East no matter what he says or does or finds.

But the President's reputation for honesty is crucial to achieving his aim of creating a freedom lobby in places where none has flourished until now. He is asking Arabs and Iranians to risk their hides by taking America's side. These people have to be convinced that Bush is a man of his word.

The President continues to maintain that weapons of mass destruction will be found. If they are, case closed. But if none turns up, Bush will have to admit it and plausibly explain why. Perhaps the President was misled by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. In that case, heads had better roll. Otherwise, the cynics of the Middle East will conclude that the President is a liar.

Lying as a justification for war is not unknown in the region. In fact, it is a staple of Arab realpolitik. Dishonesty at the top is one of the great contributing factors to the Arab cynicism that Bush hopes to defuse.

As the President made plain in his speech on the Lincoln, Iraq was merely a battle in a much greater war, the goal of which is the democratic transformation of the Middle East. Bush is offering the Arabs a New Deal, seeking to win converts and allies through the power of truth, justice and the American way.

Maybe it will work. I hope it does. But for Bush to have a chance, he'll need to remember that the formula he has chosen begins with truth.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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03/27/03: What's not going on is the key in this war
03/20/03: The big question: Can Arabs handle liberty?
03/17/03: In war, like in baseball, the idea is to make the other guy cry --- now, let's go get 'em!
03/13/03: Jewish plot? This pol has gone punchy
03/11/03: Prez is ready to finish off the Security Council, too
03/04/03: Those human shields need some star power
02/28/03: How prez could further racial pluralism but end affirnative action
02/24/03: Prof's arrest will test Arab Americans' loyalty
02/11/03: Rhyme, but no reason
02/04/03: McGovern's children
01/23/03: A peace movement that's going nowhere
01/13/03: No time for experts
01/07/03: Senator from Mayberry shouldn't alarm prez
12/31/02: Dem Dummies
12/19/02: Saudis still play Santa to Arafat
12/13/02: Lott has to be dumped to save W's authority
12/05/02: Kissinger's Saudi pals litter 9/11 money trail
11/25/02: Sharon looks like a winner
11/18/02: It's the war, stupid
11/14/02: The Dems don't have a prayer
11/07/02: Watch for Dubya to give Arik political hug
10/31/02: Sharpton the patriot
10/22/02: Rabin, gone but not missed
10/17/02: Israelis bracing for US' punch at Iraq
10/14/02: Geriatric war resisters
09/27/02: Al Gore: The Lost Boy of American politics
09/05/02: The intifadeh's over, and the Israelis won
08/29/02: At the world summit, just anger & hypocrisy
08/21/02: No time for weak knees on Iraq
08/16/02: A pro-Arab pol may get the beating she deserves
08/13/02: Fight it out now
08/02/02: Memo to The Council on Foreign Relations: U.S. values won't sell in Arab world
07/31/02: Israel's nutty neighbors

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