A Cumulative Imminently Imminent Threat?
Jude Wanniski
October 13, 2003


Memo To: Sen. Carl Levin [D MI], Armed Service Committee
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Sen. Joe Biden [D DL], Foreign Relations

As the ranking Democrat on Senate Armed Services, you have been a consistent skeptic of administration claims that it has proven the need for its decision to go to war with Iraq. You were never identified as being “anti-war,” but did raise more questions along the way on the justification for the war itself than most of your colleagues. Like Senator Biden, ranking Democrat on Senate Foreign Affairs, you voted for the resolution giving President Bush the authority to war against Iraq if he determined that diplomacy at the United Nations had failed. As I recall, you did still make the case that diplomacy had not failed before the President pulled the trigger; once the pre-emptive invasion began, you argued for support of the military while the war was in progress. Now, though, it is appropriate for you to raise these old issues about justification for the war itself. It has become clear to even the White House that there was no “imminent threat” from Saddam Hussein, as all efforts have failed to find weapons of mass destruction or programs within Iraq that could be reconstituted without detection by inspectors. The best that David Kay’s Iraqi Survey Group has been able to come up with are second-hand indications that Saddam may have hoped to some day acquire WMD.

What has happened as a result is a steady change in the war’s justification, which is certainly understandable for an administration with egg on its face. No WMD, no Al Qaeda, no imminent threat. Only a costly quagmire in blood and treasure. What worries me, Senator Levin, is that the Loyal Opposition is now slipping into the same mode, buying the Bush arguments. For example, your Democratic colleague Mr. Biden on Meet the Press Sunday told Tim Russert that it was enough to know that Saddam Hussein might someday be an imminent threat for the U.S. to go to war to topple his regime! What? Where did this come from? Not necessarily from the White House, as Sunday morning’s Washington Post editorialized along the same line… and Mr. Biden indicated he had read the editorial. Here is the key paragraph:

“[At] issue also is whether the war should have been fought. Don't we now know that Iraq posed no imminent threat to the United States and that there was thus no need or legal justification for an invasion? This question turns on the phrase "imminent threat," which was invoked before the war by leading opponents of intervention, such as Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-MI.). The Bush administration conveyed its own sense of dramatic urgency, and that too is something it should account for in light of what is now known. But we argued that the threat from Saddam Hussein was not imminent but cumulative: He had invaded his neighbors, used chemical weapons and pursued biological and nuclear arms. He threatened U.S. interests and security in a vital region and would continue to do so as long as he was in power. A decade of diplomacy, U.N. sanctions and no-fly-zone enforcement had failed to end that threat. Instead the credibility of the Security Council, along with constraints on the regime, had steadily eroded.”

As you can see, Senator Levin, the idea is to steamroller you, as the Post itself finds a terrible need to justify its fecklessness in being pulled into editorial support of the war when there was no evidence of an imminent threat. The Post acts shamefully in so wimping out. This is primarily because it merely compounds the problems for our nation’s political establishment as our political leaders confront the future of “imminent threats.” The idea that the mightiest nation on earth could use its might to crush a small nation on the argument that it posed an “imminently imminent” threat because of its cumulatively cumulative behavior is nonsensical. It practically justifies an end to the United Nations and the U.S. Congress. It would vest the President of the United States with the ultimate power to bomb the bejeesus out of any regime on earth that has incurred his cumulative displeasure.

My point, Senator, is that just as the Secretary of State should long ago have been aggressively contesting the Secretary of Defense on the need for war over diplomacy, you should now be contesting Senator Biden’s reckless embrace of war via cumulative imminence. The Meet the Press transcript is not yet available, but when it is, I suggest you give it a close reading and then invite Senator Biden for a talk over a cup of coffee.

You might also take a look at the exchange between Rep. Charlie Rangel [D NY] and Rep. J.D. Hayworth [R AZ] on Wolf Blitzers’ Late Edition. The same issue came up with Hayworth insisting the pre-emptive war was necessary because Saddam could not be trusted to not be a threat. He asked Rangel what would he think should be done if a cop were confronted by a bad guy who looked like he was going to pull his gun. Should he wait and be killed or take pre-emptive action? Charlie’s head was in the right place when he said there should be an inquiry if the cop did shoot to kill, to determine if it was warranted. But the parallel was incorrect. Suppose the cop knew the bad guy did not have a gun, but that he might leave the scene, go to his hideout, get a gun and come back to shoot the cop? Should the cop not wait for him to go get his gun and shoot him down in cold blood, because a cumulative threat against him was imminently imminent?

See what I mean, Senator? Now it is natural when one human being kills another human being thinking it was kill or be killed to rationalize the killing even after he discovers the dead man was pointing his finger at him, not the barrel of a gun. That we can all understand. What is now going on is an attempt to justify the killing of tens of thousands of people – which we did – on the grounds that the regime that was mistreating them might conceivably find a way to mistreat us. In this case, the Post’s concept of a “cumulative threat” is even more far-fetched. In perspective, the greatest threat from Iraq to its neighbors was in 1990, when it did in fact invade Kuwait. Since the end of the Gulf War, the sanctions on Iraq and the UN inspections have steadily reduced it to a helpless, toothless power. In the end, that’s really why the Pentagon’s warriors justified all this death and destruction. Because it was “doable.” I do hope you can do what you can to see this does not happen again, as the warriors at the Pentagon clearly see more imminently imminent threats around the globe they would like to bomb.