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President Bush Silent on Potential Costs of War with Iraq
Gary Hart speaking at UCLA luncheon

President Bush Silent on Potential Costs of War with Iraq

Gary Hart sharply criticized President Bush and the American military at a UCLA luncheon address on Wednesday, October 2, 2002, for not forthrightly telling the American people the possible risks in a U.S. attack on Iraq.

Leslie Evans Email LeslieEvans

You cannot have a democracy if all the issues and facts are not on the table.

Former Senator Gary Hart said he was alarmed at the inclusion of preemptive strikes in President Bush's National Security Strategy doctrine released in mid-September. He accused the government of downplaying potential casualty figures of a prospective U.S. invasion of Iraq in order to win public support for President Bush's war aims, and said this risked a dangerous loss of trust in the government in the longer term.

"It is true," Hart said, "that the polls appear to support an American strike against Iraq. But it would be a big mistake to take that too seriously. The average person asked by a pollster wants to say something positive and this does not reflect how they will feel if the war has heavy costs. Also, the answers depend very much on how the question is worded. 70% say yes if they are asked if they support the President on Iraq. This drops to 50% if the question is 'Do you support an invasion of Iraq?' And to 35% if the question is, 'Should we invade Iraq if this would result in 50,000 American casualties?'"
Hart said that "You cannot have a democracy if all the issues and facts are not on the table." He criticized the administration for essentially limiting its public discussion of a potential war with Iraq to the issue of weapons of mass destruction. "There are three other issues that must be included in the discussion: oil, casualties, and the potential effects of such a war on Israel."

Heavy Casualties a Possibility

Hart said the U.S. cannot make its public plans depend on only the most favorable outcome. "I have had discussions with a number of military men. They say there are a range of possibilities. If the Iraqi army collapses at the first blow, casualties may be as few as a couple of hundred, maybe 500 at the most. But if they dig in and defend the major cities, if they fight house to house, if they take off their uniforms and merge with the civilian population, casualties can easily reach 50,000 or even 100,000 Americans and 250,000 or more Iraqis. Baghdad is a large city. Not as big as Los Angeles, but bigger than Denver. No democratic decision can be made on this issue if these potentialities are not part of the discussion."

On the oil issue, Hart said that the failure of the Bush administration to state publicly its interest in Iraqi oil leaves the government vulnerable to accusations that can deeply damage public trust if people come to believe that the government's main real interest in a war is to grab Iraq's oil.

Hart said he did not oppose a near-term war with Iraq under all circumstances. "Preemptive war is something new for a democracy and needs a high level of justification. For me it should require three things: proof of the existence of weapons of mass destruction, proof of the capacity to deliver them, and proof of the intent to do so. None of these things have been proved at this time. But if they were, I would favor a joint international force, not a unilateral American one."

Hart added that the Bush administration and the Republicans have succeeded in putting the Congressional Democrats "in a box" over the possible war. "If the Democrats vote no and the war is a success, they will not be elected for twenty years. If they vote yes and it goes badly, they can't say anything. They are considering voting no on the presumption that the war will go badly, but that is a very bad position to be in."

Gary Hart is currently President of Global Green USA, the American affiliate of Mikhail Gorbachev’s environmental foundation, Green Cross International. He was co-chair of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century (known as the Hart-Rudman Commission). He works as lead business-development counsel for the Coudert Brothers worldwide partnership. Hart was a Democratic presidential candidate in 1988 and was U.S. Senator from Colorado (1975-87).

His meeting at the UCLA Faculty Center was sponsored by the UCLA International Institute and the Burkle Center for International Relations. It was chaired by Vice Provost Geoffrey Garrett. Former Senator Hart was at UCLA to promote his new book, Restoration of the Republic: The Jeffersonian Ideal in 21st-Century America.

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