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By Irwin Abrams
February 13, 2003

President Bush's policy on Iraq, seems characterized by the capital letters Newsweek used on its cover not long ago: HELL BENT ON WAR. As we consider this, perhaps some historical memories may help us.

When Bush tells us that a pre-emptive attack is the way to deal with a potential enemy, we must not forget that when Japan launched such an attack on the U.S. at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, when negotiations were still going on, President Roosevelt declared that "that date would live in infamy."

Historians also remember that when President Lyndon Johnson helped lead the country into war with North Vietnam, he made much of how North Vietnam had attacked us in the Gulf of Tonkin. We later learned that this was a false account.

In the events leading to the Gulf War against Iraq, we were told that Iraqi soldiers were killing Kuwaiti babies in hospitals. We later learned that the story had been concocted on demand by an advertising firm.

More recently we should not forget that President Bush aroused the country when he spoke at the ruins of the Twin Towers and declared that "we are going to get the people who knocked these building down." Then he personalized the war on terrorism by denouncing Osama bin Laden and putting out a bill for him, "Wanted Dead or Alive!" When this did not happen, the Bush team succeeded in shifting American anger at the people responsible for knocking those buildings down and killing thousands of innocent civiliants to support instead a war against Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with the Twin Tower murders. As a prominent British writer put it, this was one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history.

Now we have Colin Powell's speech to the Security Council, which has proved convincing to so many in this country. Others, however, would like to know much more about his sources. Jimmy Breslin would like to interview the translator. Even if all that Powell read was accurate, for me it unwittingly presented a good case for what France, Germany and Russia are asking, containment and forcing Saddam to disarm by determined and tough diplomacy, not war. If the U.S. can listen in on Iraqi telephone talks, continue high both technology surveillance from the air and the bombing from no-fly zones which reach very close to Baghdad, while the number of UN inspectors could be tripled, would this not effectively contain Saddam?

Meanwhile, many of the populations of the world's countries are hell-bent for peace, and the no-war protest in the U.S. is growing day by day. Perhaps we can stop the war which history tells us would be nothing short of hellish.

This commentary appeared in a Swedish translation in the Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet, February 15, 2002.

It also appeared in a Norwegian translation in the Norwegian newspaper, Stavanger Avisen, February 15, 2002.