QUESTIONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

Did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction or was the threat of such weapons invented by some unknown source in the American intelligence network? Corollary questions include: If the intelligence was indeed distorted, who were the players in the deception? Was it an intentional hoax or was it the result of negligence? If the reports were correct, where are the weapons now?
These questions have become matters of great concern with President Bush establishing a bi-partisan commission to investigate the topic (
again).
At issue is the very practical question of the nature of present American involvement in Iraq. Also at issue is whether the invasion is to be deemed appropriate and principled or not.

The justification for invasion of Iraq, provided by the Bush administration, was the reputed stockpiles of WMD and WMD programmes in that country, especially a nuclear programme on the threshold of completion. The continued failure to find any evidence of these weapons, now challenges this justification -- at least that is the way the issue is often presented.
(Their other justification, that Saddam had significant connections to Osama bin Laden --more ties, that is, than Saudi Arabia the U.S. itself -- also
fell flat several months ago, notwithstanding the ongoing belief by most Americans in such ties.)

We must ask, though, are these the only valid types of justifications for invasion? For many Jews, especially in the post-Holocaust era, limiting the possible valid justifications so narrowly is a matter of concern. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who terrorized the people he ruthlessly "governed". Would this in itself not have been enough of a justification for American intervention?

One of the most important issues within Halacha is the determination of the balance between self-interest and the interest of others. At what
cost to ourselves are we to undertake to benefit others? What risk of danger is one to assume in the attempt to help another? These are questions that apply to individuals and to countries. If Iraq was clearly about to start a nuclear terror war against the United States, America's decision to wage war would have been justified by self-protection and this kind of balancing act becomes irrelevant. However, the failure to find WMD does not in itself mean that war was unjustified.

There are those who contend that this invasion was, in no small measure, undertaken to assuage the guilt of George Bush Sr. in
failing to come to the aid of millions of Kurd & Shiite Iraqis, who were brutally put down by Saddam after launching nationwide revolts against Saddam at the end of the 1st Gulf War in 1991. It has been contended that one of George W. Bush's first directives in office was for his staff to find him an excuse to invade Iraq.
Still, is this necessarily wrong? At issue is also the nature of leadership and the relationship between leader and subjects. Is it acceptable for a leader to present
distortions and oversimplifications to his/her public in order to gain support for a position he/she believes to be correct?
[Of course, there is also the contention that the war was little more than a means by which
public money could have an excuse to find its way -- through oil, reconstruction contracts, defense supply contracts, etc. -- into the hands of companies such as Halliburton, Boeing and Lockheed. Such a reason for war would clearly pose a problem.]

Ultimately, the problem is less to do with WMD, and more about finding the true reason for the war and whether this reason was justifiable.

Still, one of the more fundamental considerations may still be: at what risk should one country undertake to
assist a population in another country? This is not to say that a country must always help an oppressed population in another country or that America was right to invade Iraq to save the Iraqis from Saddam.

In the end, what is important is that a nation confront these questions. Only thus can a nation come to terms with its values, its priorities, the decisions of its elected leaders, and what kind of character they wish their nation to have.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

2004 NISHMA