Thursday, March 06, 2003

What This Average Citizen Wanted To Hear The President Say

For the past several months I have felt like a fish out of water. I'm conservative in my philosophy, Republican in my voting. But when it comes to the question of whether war against Iraq is justified, I find myself on the same side -- if not for the same reasons -- as mostly liberal Democrats. Based on what I know to date, I remain skeptical that Saddam Hussein currently poses an imminent threat of grave, lasting and certain damage to the United States.

President Bush will get no argument from me that Saddam is a terror and that the world would be better off if he was not in power. Similarly, I see little likelihood that Saddam will wake up tomorrow and decide to comply with the U.N. resolutions. I hope that war and regime change bring about all the positives that the administration and war advocates cite: democracy and liberation for the Iraqi people, stability in the Middle East, elimination of a funding source for terrorism, and prevention of future attacks. However, I can't avoid the conclusion that this is not much more than a string of optimistic assertions. I pray to God military action will be that successful, but I don't see yet actual plans to realize those benefits.

In the end, though, my troubles return to the question of whether preemptive military action is the correct response to the threat Saddam poses. When I read that the President was going to hold an unscheduled news conference on the subject of Iraq, I naively hoped the President might take this question on. President Bush told us that the cost of inaction is too high; we must not wait until Saddam uses weapons of mass destruction against us. As much as I agree with that view, I struggle to understand what principle the President is relying on to prevent his case for war from being just a first-strike argument.

No reporter really pressed him on this point. Yes, we heard questions of why so many other countries don't see the threat as the President does. What we didn't hear were questions that drill down to how the President sees the threat. So here's what I would have asked if given the opportunity (with due credit to Tom Kreitzberg for the concept for the hypothetical). I would have said, "Mr. President, many people in the United States and around the world doubt that Saddam poses an imminent threat to us and they are unclear as to how you have reached the opposite conclusion. To help people understand your evaluation of the situation, would you address two questions in the context of the following hypothetical?" The hypothetical I would raise is a simple one: an encounter on the street with a stranger who has a knife.

In true reporter fashion, I would then proceed to ask a multi-part question. "First, Mr. President, when is the stranger a sufficient threat to justify shooting him? For example, is it when the knife is in his pocket? When it is in his hand, but at his side? When he holds the knife out pointed at you? Or is it when the stranger raises his arm over his head ready to swing the knife in attack?" An honest response would help everyone evaluate how grave of a harm the President believes is necessary to justify violence. To date, the administration has given me no significant clues.

"Second, Mr. President, many people, if asked, would say that our situation with Saddam is akin to the stranger with the knife in his pocket. Do you disagree with that view? If so, what can you say that would dissuade them?" An honest response might reveal some additional facts or connect the dots in a new fashion that more cogently makes the case for why we must act now.

It is only in addressing these questions and concerns does the President stand a chance in increasing public support for the probable war with Iraq. Here's one average citizen who hopes he takes on the challenge.


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