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Jewish World Review March 21, 2002 / 8 Nisan, 5762

Chris Matthews

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The road to Baghdad | Like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, a pair of rightist factions in the Bush administration are taking the United States on the road to Baghdad. Unlike the beloved Hope-Crosby "road" pictures, the Iraq adventure will not be funny.

It will take 200,000 U.S. troops to invade Saddam Hussein's capital and affect the "regime change" demanded by neo-conservative policy wonks and backed by oil-patchers George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The question America needs to answer now, while there's still time to stop it, is whether a war justified by ideology and energy economics is truly in this country's interests.

I write this haunted by the prospect that a U.S.-Iraqi war has advanced well beyond the "contingency" phase, and that the last barrier of restraint, Secretary of State Colin Powell, has been broken by the will of a partnership of ideology and oil that is now set on war. I wonder now if anything can prevent this military move against Baghdad on which so many holding power and influence have set their heart.

Start with the "neo-conservative" faction. A day doesn't pass that the relentless pound of anti-Saddam war drums cannot be heard from the nearest Op-Ed page. Weekly Standard Publisher Bill Kristol has made a crusade of getting U.S. troops onto the streets of Baghdad.

He and fellow Iraq hawk Robert Kagan write a regular column in the Washington Post pushing war, as does fellow neo-conservative Frank Gaffney Jr. for the Washington Times. There's also William Safire of The New York Times who has been on the Iraq jag since I can remember.

Again and again, they and like-minded rightists make the case for at U.S. attack on Baghdad. When the "neo-conservatives" cannot blame Saddam for Sept. 11, they try tagging him with the anthrax letters. When they cannot find a Baghdad connection to anthrax, they again try attaching Saddam to the World Trade Center and Pentagon horrors.

Meanwhile, on the Bush ranch itself, their fellow "neo-conservatives" keep up the cadence. David Frum, a neo-conservative Canadian crafted Bush's "axis of evil" locution targeting Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Joseph Shattan, a like-minded ideologue, filled the vacuum left by his recent departure.

Elsewhere the sword prepares to do the work of the pen.

Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz leads the "neo-conservative" forces at the Pentagon. Undersecretary Doug Feith recently approved a new U.S. "posture" that threatens to nuke Iraq if it moves against Israel. I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, is another well-placed hawk, as is neo-conservative high priest and Pentagon advisor Richard Perle.

For all the World War II rhetoric -- the neo-cons casually compare Iraq to the Third Reich, Israel to forsaken Czechoslovakia, and skeptics to Neville Chamberlain -- the ideologues have yet to make their case. The anthrax letters have been traced to a source far nearer than Baghdad. And CIA chief George Tenet testified before the Senate Armed Service committee this week that the "jury's still out" on whether Saddam had anything whatsoever do with Sept. 11.

Ideology is not the force pressing for war. Iraq is the Mideast's No. 2 supplier of oil, Saudi Arabia the No. 1. Swallowing a quarter of the world's production, America is the world's No. 1 consumer. This country is led by a pair of oil-patch veterans who share an affection for the petroleum industry, a sense of entitlement about the world's oil reserves regardless of what flag flies above it. To George W. Bush, reared by a wildcatting father whose Zapata oil company did business in the Gulf, counseled by a veep straight from the oil business, sees Saddam's chief weapon of mass destruction as his threatened grip on the Persian Gulf oil tap.

This confluence of interest between ideology and oil has put this country on the road to Baghdad. It's time for the country as a whole to realize that American principles have precious little to do with this costly military campaign, either as cargo or motive.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of "Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think". and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Comment by clicking here.

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