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The Next Dispute
Torturing the Truth?
Putin’s Free Pass
Ranting Robertson

The Next Dispute

Arms inspectors in Iraq report that Baghdad is being cooperative and open. Officials at the UN claim that the inspectors are off to a good start. Ministers in Iraq say they will meet the first UN-imposed deadline.

So, how does President Bush respond? The signs from Baghdad, he says, are “not encouraging.”

Only a week after inspectors began searching for evidence of weapons, and only days before Iraq is required to submit a full accounting of its weapons and missile programs, President Bush appears headed for what could be a decisive showdown with the UN. While UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told Reuters that “there is a good indication that the Iraqis are cooperating,” Bush expressed deep doubts about whether Baghdad will deliver an honest accounting of its armaments. And while Annan insisted that the inspection process has only just begun, Bush seems intent on making the initial Iraqi declaration a critical test.

“He stopped short of declaring that an incomplete declaration on Sunday would constitute a cause for war, and several officials said the Pentagon was not yet ready to fight in Iraq. But he did say the report would amount to a clear test of whether Mr. Hussein has changed his ways.”

What remains to be seen, Jules Witcover writes in The Baltimore Sun, is whether Bush has changed his ways. Clearly, the White House and the UN are prepared to interpret the inspectors’ reports in starkly differing ways, Witcover writes.

“For this reason alone, it must be hoped that whatever the U.N. inspection team finds or fails to find produces a clearly persuasive report that generates solid U.N. backing for whatever action is warranted. It would be a mistake for President Bush to take any questionable evidence of material breach to send the planes, missiles and men against Iraq.

How he responds will demonstrate whether he went to the U.N. in the first place only for show, or whether he appreciates the importance of solidarity with the world community — and respect for international law — in seeking Iraqi disarmament.”

Robert Fisk is convinced Bush appreciates neither. Writing in The Independent, Fisk declares that Bush’s bellicose reaction to the inspectors’ progress leaves nothing in doubt.

“What does this mean? Simply that America plans to go to war whatever the UN inspectors find.

Don’t we want the UN inspectors to do their work? No, I rather think that we are being set up for war, that Britain will join America in invading Iraq, whatever the inspectors discover. In fact, we are being prepared for the awful, incredible, unspeakable possibility that the UN inspectors will find absolutely no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That will leave us with only one conclusion: they were no good at their job.”

Recounting a discussion with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Hugo Young of The Guardian shows that Fisk’s fatalism is grounded in the reality being constructed by Washington’s hawks.

“He said, as per routine, that there was an outside chance Saddam would see the light, and let inspection lead to the peaceful dismembering of his weaponry. But he doesn’t believe it is going to happen. Nor does any American I’ve met anywhere near the administration. They are going through the necessary motions of peace.”

All of which is just dandy, as far as John Podhoretz is concerned. The New York Post columnist, whose rhetorical appetite for war remains unslaked, declares that US hawks have nothing to worry about. True, the anti-war movement is gathering steam. True, the involvement of the UN has forced the administration to rethink its strategy. True, the arms inspections may uncover no hard evidence. But none of that really matters, Podhoretz trumpets.

“George W. Bush intends to rid the world of Saddam Hussein. He won’t give veto power over his constitutional responsibility to preserve, protect and defend this country to some know-nothing rabbis or greying ex-hippies awash in 1960s nostalgia.

Hawks need not fear. The biggest hawk of all is in the Oval Office.”

Torturing the Truth?

Accusing the Iraqi regime of systematic human rights abuses, the British government has released a detailed dossier claiming that Saddam Hussein has employed torture, rape, and terror to remain in power. And Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says that record is yet another reason to crack down on Baghdad.

Not so fast, says Amnesty International, one of the primary sources for the information included in Straw’s dossier.

Attacking the dossier as a “cold and calculated manipulation” of the work of human rights activists, the group blasted London for its selective evaluation of rights abuses.

“‘Let us not forget that these same governments turned a blind eye to Amnesty International’s reports of widespread human rights violations in Iraq before the Gulf war,’ the group’s secretary general, Irene Khan, said.

‘They remained silent when thousands of unarmed Kurdish civilians were killed in Halabja in 1988.'”

And, according to The Telegraph, the British government has its own questions to answer when it comes to Iraqi abuses.

“Hussain al-Shahristani, a former nuclear scientist who was tortured and jailed for 11 years for refusing to work on Saddam’s secret nuclear programme, said: ‘When I was in jail I was held with British-made handcuffs. In the cells next door, I could hear the screams of people who were having holes drilled into their bones. Those drills were made in Britain.'”

Putin’s Free Pass

Prospects for a peace in Chechnya have been shattered, and prospects for a new, deadly phase in Russia’s ongoing war against the breakaway province appear very strong.

That should worry the Bush administration, The New Republic delcares. But, with Moscow’s American apologists insisting that “the United States can’t afford to be squeamish about human rights in Chechnya because we need Russia’s help in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond,” the Kremlin will face little scrutiny from Washington, the magazine’s editors predict.

“At least 140,000 Chechens have been forced to flee the province. Yet, so far, Washington has shown virtually no concern at all. President Bush has declared this a ‘time of solidarity’ with Russia. Speaking with European reporters earlier this week, the president explained that America’s “good friend” Putin should ‘do what it takes to protect his people from … terrorist attacks’ — implicitly acceding to Putin’s long-standing argument that his actions in Chechnya are of a piece with the U.S. war on terrorism.”

The problem with that argument, the magazine points out, is that the threat facing Moscow “is secession, not global Islamic terrorism.”

Allowing the Kremlin to pursue its offensive against the Chechen sepratists without comment will only convince moderate Muslims that the US war on terror is nothing less than a war on Islam, the magazine asserts:

“Coming to the aid of threatened Muslim minorities in the Balkans during the 1990s helped improve America’s image in the Muslim world, demonstrating that our political ideals pertain regardless of religion. Funding programs for moderate Muslim scholars and helping build liberal, secular schools so poor children in countries like Pakistan have an alternative to radical madrassas may help as well. But such efforts will be of little use if the United States is seen as abetting, without comment or criticism, the Russian bloodletting in Chechnya. The world is watching.”

Robertson’s Rant

Of course, if the Bush administration actually wants to lose support among moderate Muslims, it need only enslist Pat Robertson.

The Christian Coalition heavyweight is thrusting himself — and his divisive and dismissive views on Islam — into the national debate. Most recently, Robertson trotted out his religious rhetoric on ABC’s This Week, leaving Slate‘s William Saletan aghast.

“Let’s review Robertson’s comments. 1) To win the war, Bush needs to avoid saying Islam is rotten. 2) Islam is rotten. 3) I’m Bush’s best friend. 4) I’m not against Muslims; I just want them to stop being Muslims. 5) The only people trying to make this a Muslim-Christian thing are those rotten Muslims. 6) I want everyone watching this TV show to know that this issue is no big deal.

Guess which religion needs damage control now.”

Of course, Robertson’s performance on ABC is hardly new. As Larry Witham of The Washington Times reports, Robertson has also complained that the mainstream media and political leaders have “ failed to educate Americans about violence in the Koran and in Islamic history.”

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