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Sunday, September 1, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Editorial

The case for war has not been made

The Bush administration has not yet made the case for war to conquer Iraq. It must make that case and convince a majority of Congress before any action is taken.

No convincing evidence shows Iraq responsible, directly or indirectly, for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Iraq is not attacking anyone now.

Twelve years ago, Iraq seized Kuwait, and several of its neighbors asked for our help. Then, the United Nations gave its sanction. This time, there are no countries bordering Iraq asking for help; there is no U.N. sanction and no allies other than Israel, caught in its own war, and maybe Britain. We could not use Israeli soldiers. The men and women invading the Iraqi homeland would be mostly Americans.

The case for war must be our own. It cannot be security from conquest, because Iraq cannot conquer us. It could attack the United States only in the manner of Sept. 11, as a venture in suicide. The case that needs to be made is that such an attack is likely, which in practical terms means that Saddam Hussein is developing nuclear bombs and that he is of a mind to detonate them.

Whether he is developing them is a question of fact; whether he would use them is the much more difficult judgment of intent. It cannot be assumed.

Stalin had nuclear weapons, as did Khrushchev, Brezhnev and the none-too-sober Boris Yeltsin. Mao had them. Ariel Sharon has them, as does Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Kim Jong Il may have them. But no nuclear bomb has been used on a city since 1945.

Some argue that anyone so callous as to use chemical weapons would use nuclear weapons. Not necessarily. Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons more than 10 years ago, against the Iranians and the Kurds, neither of which could hit back. He did not use them in the Gulf War, though he had them. He is not using them now. All of which shows a modicum of prudence.

Nuclear weapons may be "used" without being detonated. Once Saddam Hussein has them, we could no longer invade his country — which means we may have to invade it soon if we invade it at all.

But that does not make the case.

What would make the case is evidence that Saddam Hussein is of a mind to use nuclear weapons offensively — that he might invade another country and then say, "You fight back and I go nuclear." Or that he would use a nuclear bomb in a Sept. 11-type attack.

No leader in 60 years has used nuclear weapons offensively, and for good reason. The leader of a nation-state, as opposed to a group like al-Qaida, has cities to lose. Saddam Hussein would have to be extraordinarily unbalanced, a leader in a different category from Stalin, Khrushchev or Mao, to do that.

Is he? If we are convinced he is, then we should not worry what the Europeans think. Go to war, and do it soon. But if Saddam Hussein is an ordinary tyrant, a mid-sized Stalin with a rational fear of defeat, he may be hemmed in with a ring of steel. Stalin was. Mao was.

Iraq's leader may be offered an end to the economic embargo on condition that he allow U.N. weapons inspectors back in. That could enhance our security and reduce the death rate in Iraq from disease. We could then wait for Saddam Hussein to die, which is what we have wisely done with every other tyrant since Hitler.

The burden of proof is on the bringers of war. Let them make their case to Congress. There need be no declaration of war, which carries legal consequences the nation may prefer to avoid. The vote in 1990 to retake Kuwait was not a declaration of war. But it was permission from the American people. The first President Bush claimed that he didn't need it legally, but he did need it politically. And he got it.

The White House argues that legally it doesn't have to ask Congress. This is not a time for fancy lawyering. War is a political question. A war to conquer Iraq cannot be dismissed as a backyard cleanup, as in Panama and Grenada, or a humanitarian mission, as in Somalia and Haiti, or a group effort, as in Bosnia and Kosovo. There is no fig leaf to hide behind.

This is a war, large and premeditated. As the Constitution indicates, it requires the permission of Congress.

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