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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, September 6, 2002

Congress must probe beyond war questions

It's with a measure of relief we welcome President Bush's commitment to seek congressional approval before taking military action against Iraq.

It brings a dimension of deliberation to a process that had all the earmarks in recent weeks of a swiftly unfolding foregone conclusion. As former president Jimmy Carter remarks on this page, the move to attack Iraq at times seemed to be about settling old scores "under the cover of the proclaimed war against terrorism."

We hope the smoke of jingoism will clear enough that Americans can attempt to exercise a modicum of prudence without being accused of appeasement.

It's entirely possible, of course, that President Bush knows something terrible about Iraq that the rest of us do not. Perhaps that information will be brought to the fore in the coming days, as the White House presents its case to the nation and the world.

As of yesterday, however, people ranging from ranking members of congressional intelligence committees to allied leaders professed not to have a clue. Of this leading light in the "axis of evil," there appears to be little that wasn't known before Sept. 11, 2001, and indeed, during the Clinton administration. So why the great urgency to make war on Iraq?

Why, exactly, can't the White House take the time to get United Nations backing for a new, more intrusive inspections regime — and then, if that (perhaps predictably) fails, use it as a cause for war the rest of the world can support? One wonders why the president seems to have so little interest in duplicating the magnificent coalition cobbled together by his father to liberate Kuwait.

Congress should take advantage of the opportunity offered by Bush to take the debate back to Square 1. Let's begin by defining precisely what is meant by a war on terrorism. What commitments does it entail, against whom and for how long? We must ask the uncomfortable questions, such as what role oil plays in the calculus, and why we seem to cultivate such unsavory friends.

More basically, it's an opportunity to seek the 21st-century identity for which our nation still is groping. What role — what example — is appropriate today for the richest and most powerful nation on Earth? We must aim high.