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Progressive and Neo-Conservative Journalists Face Off on Iraq

A Point-Counterpoint by Brad Carlton and Scott Baughman

For War: (Scott) Leaving Saddam in power when we know that he has illegal weapons and ties to terrorists (specifically al-Qaeda or not) is a mistake. It would be the same as knowing the location of a bomb that was threatening your friends and not disarming due to the fact that time was still ticking on the detonator. Sooner or later, the bomb that is Iraq will go off, if we don't stop it.

Against War: (Brad) "Do you think that people in the Arab world won't notice that we don't mind when Israel breaks UN resolutions, yet we're ready to bomb an Arab country when it does?"

In recent months and weeks it has become somewhat of a daily ritual for concerned American citizens to discuss the pros and cons of the war the Bush administration intends to start this week with Iraq. The Blacksburg Times and The Baltimore Chronicle, two community papers with opposing editorial perspectives, are pleased to present a written form of one such discussion between Times Editor Scott Baughman and Brad Carlton, a contributing editor on global affairs for the Chronicle. These comments were made in response to the case for war made, over the weeks, by Secretary of State Colin Powell and others in the Bush administration.

Scott Baughman: For months, if not years, it has been apparent that Saddam Hussein in no way intends to follow through with the agreements he made for the cease-fire that ended the Gulf War in 1991. I'll assert right now that he has also been actively plotting against the United States since this defeat and has been helping terrorist organizations in various ways, including but not limited to al-Qaeda. Furthermore, I think that the evidence, particularly Powell's presentation to the UN, is more than enough to warrant military actions against him and his state. What makes you disagree?

Brad Carlton: I will agree that Iraqi government is probably hiding things it shouldn't have, that no nation should have. But neither my belief nor your assertion nor the word of the man who covered up the My Lai massacre is reason enough to start a war that is sure to result in bodies being ripped apart by bombs and America's servicemen being exposed to whatever chemical weapons the Iraqi government is probably hiding. As for Powell's presentation, the IAEA, among others, have proven it is riddled with holes and outright fabrications. In other words, not only did Powell goof, in some cases he outright lied (e.g., the "evidence," which was actually forged documents, that Iraq tried to get aluminum tubes from Niger to enrich uranium).

When you argue that "military actions"--by which you mean massive airstrikes and carpet bombing, guaranteed to kill thousands who are not Hussein--are the appropriate and effective way to respond to a world leader who decides to stockpile naughty weapons, your anti-logic is not borne out by the facts. Fact: more weapons of mass destruction were destroyed by the previous inspections regime than by all the airstrikes and firepower that U.S. forces have trained on Iraq for twelve years, including the Gulf War. Bombs are not an effective tool for getting rid of bombs. The international community that Washington so arrogantly disregards is right: the best way to neutralize any potential (unproven!) threat that Iraq poses is to reinforce the inspections and let them do their work.

As for the al-Qaeda angle, your (and Powell's) assertion that Iraq is linked to al-Qaeda is more than speculation, it is misinformation. International intelligence, even including American and Israeli agencies and operatives, are unanimous that that there is no substantive evidence at all of any link between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda, and they have gone on record saying as much. Quotes one intelligence agent to the New York Times: "We've been looking at this hard for more than a year and you know what, we just don't think it's there." Another intelligence source to the London Telegraph: "The intelligence is practically non-existent."

The best that Powell could do was to assert, hilariously, that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an al-Qaeda operative, has links with Baghdad. Zarqawi is allied with the Kurds--the same people who've been trying to overthrow Hussein since he gassed them--in the Kurdish-controlled north which is not under Baghdad's jurisdiction thanks to the heavy CIA presence and U.S. unilateral enforcement of no-fly zones in the area. It is important to remember that Osama bin Laden offered the Saudis his services to overthrow Hussein's secular government and replace it with an Islamic fundamentalist regime. To al-Qaeda, Hussein is an "infidel," the enemy, which is why they're likely forming alliances with the fundamentalist, anti-Saddam Kurds. Powell's insistence on pressing this point throws the veracity of the rest of his evidence into further question.

Scott: Well, youĖve certainly done your homework and I commend your efforts. Unfortunately, the CIA operatives who have expressed doubts and concerns about the credibility of a link between Saddam and al-Qaeda are not the ones who make the final decision about what the CIA publicly endorses. In fact, those in charge, and therefore presumably the experts, have publicly endorsed the link to the tune of even being seated behind Powell during his dissertation at the U.N.

Secondly, while I totally agree that bin Laden views Hussein as an infidel (and rightfully so), I do not think that this in any way rules out the possibility of them working together. After all, they both have publicly stated their hatred of the USA (and by extension all of us, including you), so, without being too much of a cliche, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, no?

As to your claim that al-Zarqawi is not allied with Hussein but rather working with Kurdish rebels in the North, how could you possibly know what he is doing? Besides which, his mere presence, in any part of Iraq is criteria enough for a strike. Lest you forget, we as a nation promised that any country or state which gave safety to or harbored known terrorists (which al-Zarqawi is) would face serious repercussions.

Brad: First of all, George Tenet, head of the CIA, told Congress that all intelligence leads to the conclusion that Hussein would not take the drastic step of putting weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a radical terrorist organization that wants to overthrow him unless there were a war and he knew that his reign was coming to an end. Having Tenet sit behind Powell during his speech changes none of that. Moreover, a group of intelligence veterans have joined the chorus of current intelligence sources in protesting the administrationĖs misleading politicization of the intelligence to suit their war aims.

Now back to Zarqawi. That he is working with Kurds in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq is a matter of record and no one denies this, including Powell. To say that his presence in a part of Iraq that Baghdad doesn't control justifies bombing Baghdad is like saying that the presence of terrorists in the West Bank is reason enough to bomb Jerusalem and remove Sharon. This is not a strained analogy. Hussein's current treatment of the Kurds through "Arabization" is remarkably similar to IsraelĖs settlement policy with respect to the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. And in both cases, we're talking about a region that one nation claims while trying to displace another ethnic group that inconveniently has been living there for millennia.

But let's take your assertion that Zarqawi's presence justifies war even further. The head of the Kurdish organization Zarqawi works for is in Norway right now. Shall we bomb Oslo when we're done with Iraq? And of course, the two nations whose governments have been shown to have links with al-Qaeda are Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, two brutal dictatorships, both U.S. allies. Shall we bomb them too? Shall we bomb every nation where al-Qaeda has a presence? What about other terrorist organizations? Shall we bomb Ireland? This past January, a retired Washington army intelligence officer and his wife mailed more than 300 secret intelligence documents, some involving chemical, nuclear, and biological warfare strategies, to members of the religious right, many of whom of course support Bush. Plus, Otto Reich, a member of the administration who helps develop Latin American policy, has ties to Orlando Bosch, a terrorist who bombed a Cuban airplane. So according to your logic, Washing ton will now have to bomb itself. Or do you prefer to take the hypocritical route by picking and choosing which terrorists to bomb?

Scott: Threatening people to get what you want is no way to run a country. HusseinĖs methods of dealing with the Kurds, while not markedly different in strategy, are definitely different in reasoning than IsraelĖs way of dealing with the Palestinians. Not to drag the PLO/Israel conflict into this, but at the heart of it all is that while the "Palestinians" have been living in the disputed area that is modern Israel for some time, one can easily make the case that the ancient Jews lived there in Biblical times in Israel of old. So, whose historical claim is more valid? Who were the "original" settlers of that land? And furthermore, if we can claim ancestral residence is a method of ownership and "first rights" to a certain land then how can we claim to live in America? Should not the Native Americans have first rights to this land? Should not South America also be filled only with those of Mayan or Aztec descent?

I feel the answer to these questions is simple. We live in the modern world. Israel, as a modern state, was mandated by the United Nations at the end of World War II. Sharon and his government have every right to demand that the Palestinians live by their rules or get out, by nature of the U.N. charter. If individuals disagree with that, then have the U.N. deal with it.

On the other side of the coin, Hussein's claims to any part of Iraq as being his territory are disputed by numerous people, not the least of whom are the Kurds. They as a people want to be free of Saddam's rule, but Mr. Hussein knows the consequences of having terrorists, especially al-Qaeda terrorists, inside his countries borders. I fully understand the implications of a No-Fly Zone on this statement, but if he is aware of Zarqawi's presence in that region, friend or foe, he should have reported it and taken steps, perhaps in tandem with the international community, to do something about it. The fact that he has not, and that the only way many Americans heard about it was via Secretary Powell's speech, proves that Hussein is not taking this threat seriously.

As to your laughable assertion that Washington should bomb itself, I submit that the two American terrorists you mentioned were not involved in attacks on America itself. With respect to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, I feel that the current administration is not naive enough to miss that fact that 15 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian, and that many al-Qaeda operatives have escaped into Pakistan. Good plans take place in stages, and I think Iraq is merely part one.

Brad: Oh so you do think we should eventually bomb Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? Are we supposed to bomb all 26-some-odd dictatorships in the world? Perhaps you should be a lobbyist for a defense contracting firm.

As for Sharon having the right to dictate to the Palestinians by nature of the UN, apparently you're not aware of the Security Council's resolution requiring Israel to return the Arab territory it occupied in 1967. You see, Iraq is not the only nation that has lived in flagrant disregard of UN resolutions. Israel has been doing it for decades. Once again, it is utter hypocrisy to pick and choose like this. Do you think that people in the Arab world won't notice that we don't mind when Israel breaks UN resolutions, yet we're ready to bomb an Arab country when it does? How can this not ratchet up the anti-American sentiment abroad that is mother's milk for terrorism?

You're right that the two American terrorists weren't involved in attacks on America. But neither was Iraq. If anything the materials the two Americans shared have a greater likelihood of being used within our borders because they were shared with extremists--within our borders. There is no evidence that Iraq is guilty of that. Iraq is a red herring. The real threats lie elsewhere. For example, in Afghanistan.

Americans--and Bush himself--seem to have forgotten that we're heavily involved in a nasty conflict over there. U.S. forces have been forced to retreat from some areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border where some of the most intense fighting is. Outside of Kabul, warlords are in charge and the provisional Afghan government is powerless to do anything. Opium production has exploded, to the point that Afghanistan is once again the world's leading opium producer. And the terrorist presence is still so strong inside Afghanistan, even today, that al-Qaeda actually operates a radio station inside its borders. Is this what a post-invasion Iraq will look like after we've "won" the war there? Let's not forget that it was after the Soviet Union broke apart and Russia became a "democracy" that its chemical and biological weapons were scattered to the winds and have ended up in God-knows-what terrorist hands.

Finally, in choosing what will be a multi-billion dollar war, Bush has jettisoned his conservative credentials. The conservative approach would be to find a way to neutralize any potential threat Iraq may pose at the lowest possible cost in lives and U.S. taxpayer dollars. Bush's current military budget is already at $379.9 billion, or more than a billion dollars a day and $42 million an hour. This does NOT include the cost of war with Iraq. Those costs will have to be added on. The Persian Gulf War twelve years ago cost us at least $11 billion. This one will cost half a billion dollars a day, and some official estimates say that the cost of war plus occupation could climb to $100 billion. You think we've seen astronomical deficits so far, just wait until Bush gets his war. Your children and grandchildren could be living with the economic fallout from these deficit years for much of their lives. Also, more than 100, 000 people were killed during the first Gulf War, plus al most half of the U.S. veterans who returned from it have been stricken with "Gulf War Syndrome." Many Iraqis and U.S. veterans have died from cancer as a result of all the depleted uranium the bombing left in its wake. It's worth repeating that the inspections process destroyed far more of Iraq's weapons arsenal than the Gulf War and cost no lives and far, far less money. I favor the conservative approach.

Scott : I don't want there to be a war. But I know that inspections and containment are not the answer to this problem. Hussein is a dictator and like all successful ones he has an almost unquenchable thirst for power and unheard of tenacity when it comes to retaining that power. Leaving Saddam in power when we know that he has illegal weapons and ties to terrorists (specifically al-Qaeda or not) is a mistake. It would be the same as knowing the location of a bomb that was threatening your friends and not disarming due to the fact that time was still ticking on the detonator. Sooner or later, the bomb that is Iraq will go off, if we don't stop it.

As to the potential cost in money and manpower, that is the nature of war. We can always make more money, and I would rather die if it meant a safer future for my children. All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to sit by and do nothing. That is not America's way. In the 1940s we were attacked. That war led to the use of the first atomic weapon in Earth's history. Was it brutal? Yes. Was it a horrible end? Yes. Was it justified? Absolutely. When the United States is attacked, more often than not the nature of the planet changes as a result of our response. We were attacked on 9/11, and I believe that our response, beginning with the liberation of Iraq, will once again change the world. As Churchill said, we are like a great boiler, and there's no end to how hot it will get. Your closing thoughts please.

Brad: We were not attacked by Iraq on 9/11, so let's not confuse the issue. (Also Gen. Eisenhower himself said that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not necessary to bring World War II to an end.) One more time, there is no evidence that the Iraqi government is in bed with al-Qaeda; in fact all the evidence we have suggests that it is not. Aside from his deplorable contributions to families of Palestinian suicide bombers (which Saudi Arabia offers as well), Hussein, guilty of many sins, does not prop up international terrorist groups. Intelligence profilers have noted that he likes to hoard and micromanage his weapons and his power too much to share either with terrorists. And I am sick and tired of hearing that "We Know" Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. It very well might, but the only way to prove that is through the verification of inspections. Meanwhile, Hussein won't use anything he's hiding because the U.S. has already told him we'd nuke him if he did. Hussein is, according to the best intelligence available, deterred, unless we go to war to overthrow him.

Finally, though I abhor dictatorships, it is not up to us to paternalistically "liberate" Iraq. It is up to the Iraqi people to do that for themselves. We can provide assistance (not militarization, mind you, which would risk blowback), but ultimately Iraqis have to have the responsibility and the will to determine their own fate. It took us more than a century to throw off the yoke of English rule--which we had to do by ourselves, with some minor help from (ahem) the French--and our democracy was all the stronger for it.

Scott: I'd like to thank Brad for his time and his diligent research to back up his points with actual facts. If you have thoughts on this matter, and we both pray that you do, please send us an eMail to either or

Copyright © 2003 The Baltimore Chronicle and The Sentinel. All rights reserved. We invite your comments, criticisms and suggestions.

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This story was published on March 5, 2003.
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