A war still in search of a rationale

It is more than six months since the invasion of Iraq, and it remains a war in search of a rationale.

A massive search and a series of investigations of scientists and technicians have yet to produce the weapons of mass destruction that were supposed to put the US in danger imminent enough to justify preemptive action. A Washington Post poll last month showed that 69 percent of Americans believing that Saddam Hussein had some role in the Sept. 11 attacks. But the Bush administration seems ambivalent about whether to keep making that assertion.

In his May 1 victory speech from the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, Mr. Bush said that the Iraq battle was "one victory in the war on terror that began on Sept. 11."

Since then, the administration has become much less definite. On NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sept. 14, Vice President Dick Cheney called Iraq "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11." Two days later, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seemed to contradict Mr. Cheney, telling a news conference he had no reason to believe that Hussein had a hand in the 9/11 attacks. And the very next day, Bush, seeming to side with Mr. Rumsfeld, said "we have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with Sept. 11."

And yet, in his United Nations speech on Tuesday, Bush said that Iraq was "the central front" in the war against terrorism, as though reluctant to give up the theme of Iraq's link to terrorism.

Then there was the bizarre new justification of the war offered by Secretary of State Colin Powell. In a visit to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, Mr. Powell said that a 1988 poison-gas attack that killed 5,000 Kurds was justification enough for bringing down Hussein. What made his statement so bizarre was that at the time of the poison-gas attack, he was President Reagan's national security adviser. In those days the US was backing Iraq in its war with Iran. While the Reagan administration condemned the use of chemical weapons as a "grave violation" of international law, no sanctions were imposed on the Baghdad regime. [Editor's note: The original version incorrectly stated the year of Iraq's poison-gas attack on the Kurds.]

"The world should have acted sooner," Powell told Kurdish families at a mass grave site. As a justification for the invasion of Iraq 15 years later, that's almost embarrassing.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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