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JOAN VENNOCHI

Now, let's get to the truth

AS DEMOCRATIC presidential candidate Joe Lieberman would say: "Hallelujah."

 

Saddam Hussein is captured. He can never return to Iraq as a force of violence and malelovence, only as a broken, pathetic creature who must answer for crimes against his own people. The US-backed Iraqi Governing Council says Saddam will go on trial facing a possible death penalty. President Bush says it is up to Iraqis to decide his fate.

Hallelujah, but still: Bush led this country into war with Iraq not because Saddam Hussein threatened, tortured, and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Bush led us into war because, as he told us over and over again, Saddam was a direct, specific threat to the United States. The distinction involves more than semantics; it is about telling Americans the whole truth about a new foreign policy in the post-9/11 world.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld outlined what is America's vision, specifically as it applies to Iraq, in an interview with "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl. Said Rumsfeld: "The goal with respect to Iraq is to assist that country in assuming sovereignty and to assume the responsibility for its own security and to see it on a path of economic recovery -- a nation that is whole, that is at peace with its neighbors, and is respectful of the various ethnic and religious elements within the country. That's the goal, that's the path we're on. Certainly, the capture of Saddam Hussein is important. It's important because he was a vicious dictator. He killed tens of thousands of people; used gas on his own people."

There is no word in Rumsfeld's summation about a threat to the United States, no mention of the weapons of mass destruction that provided the basis for the Bush administration's first and best argument for war with Iraq. For many, the end -- Saddam out -- justifies the means -- less than honest advocacy for war by the Bush administration. But even those who accept that may still wonder, where does it leave this country going forward?

"The tyrant is a prisoner. The economy is moving forward," Paul Bremer told the Iraqi people when he announced the stunning news of the dictator's capture by American troops.

That declaration from the top US administrator in Iraq not coincidentally makes a perfect bumper sticker for the president's reelection campaign here in the United States. People who embrace it without questioning the path it took to reach this point will vote again for George W. Bush. Why settle for a substitute -- a Democrat who supported the war but wavered in the aftermath -- when you can reelect the president who, never blinking, yanked a dictator from a hole in the ground?

A president who blinks is not very tempting to the average American voter. But it would be nice to have one who links our policy in Iraq to our policy elsewhere in the world. The sheep-like call by Democratic presidential candidates to internationalize the occupation of Iraq and turn over its rebuilding to the United Nations sounded naive before Saddam's capture. But somewhere between the Democrats' groveling and the swashbuckling presidential approach is a worldview that needs to be articulated to the country and the international community. Perhaps Bush will take the opportunity to do it in his upcoming State of the Union address in January.

In the meantime, there are plenty of questions for Bush to answer, and maybe Saddam Hussein can help answer them. He already supplied information that led to the capture of two more wanted Iraqi men. However, according to Time magazine, he denied having had weapons of mass destruction. "The US dreamed them up itself to have a reason to go to war with us," Time quotes Saddam as telling interrogators.

Does it matter if such weapons are ever found? Yes.

Without them, it is more than fair to say to President Bush: Level with us, Mr. President. Who is the next dictator you plan to depose? Which country is up next for liberation and rebuilding? The world wants to know.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com.

Saddam Hussein Saddam Hussein after his capture by US forces. (Reuters Photo)
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