Preemption: Back to Osirak

In case you have not noticed, the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal has continued to justify its ardent support for the preemptive war against Iraq even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found and no links between Saddam and al-Qaeda have been found. The latest rationale is that the 24 million people of Iraq are better off for the war, although the editors do not include the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and military who have died in the course of their liberation.

Tuesday’s editorial page goes much further, with a commentary by a senior vice president of Dow Jones & Co., L. Gordon Crovitz, who takes the rationale for preemptive war all the way back to June 1981, when the Israeli Air Force bombed the almost-completed billion-dollar nuclear power plant outside Baghdad. In his review of a new book celebrating that event, Crovitz notes that the entire world condemned the clear act of aggression by Israel, with even the United States casting its vote in the United Nations against Israel. The only EXCEPTION was the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, which praised the bombing – on the grounds that Iraq was most certainly building an atom bomb.

In fact, for all these years, when it comes to all issues involving national security in general and the Middle East in particular, the Journal’s editorial page has served as the personal fiefdom of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. Crovitz, of course, knows that as well as I do, having worked his way up to his present status at Dow Jones through the editorial page. Trained as a lawyer, he became editor of the editorial page of the Journal’s Asian edition, which took its cues from New York on all matters of national security. In reading his commentary, note what he does not tell his readers:

1. Iraq had signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which entitled it to receive assistance from the nuclear powers in building plants to generate electrical power. The Osirak plant was constructed by the French, who had built an identical plant for Israel, which had not signed the NPT and provided the fissile material for its plant through its own sources. The difference is that NPT signatories who received assistance had to also agree to frequent inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to make sure none of the fissile material used for power production was diverted to a weapons program.

2. Just as we now know Iraq had no WMD when we attacked it last year, we now know Iraq had no nuclear weapons program at the time of the Osirak bombing and that it was the bombing that led Baghdad to initiate a clandestine weapons program outside the purview of the IAEA – a program that ended in complete failure in any event.

3. Although the U.S. officially condemned the Israeli attack on Osirak, for which Iraq was never compensated financially, the Pentagon gave Israel what assistance it could in planning the air strike through a special office established soon after Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in January 1981. The man assigned to the office was Richard Perle, who has since congratulated himself for the timely success of the bombing – hastily arranged so the plant could be destroyed before it had been fitted with nuclear material – or the nuclear fallout would have contaminated the area and caused much more loss of life than the few workers killed in the strike.

4. The headline on Crovitz’s story, “Everyone now agrees it was right to attack Iraq preemptively,” is the Journal’s way of saying that it would have been much more difficult to subdue Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War if its power plant had not been destroyed and Saddam had found a way to sneak fissile material past the IAEA inspectors to build an Islamic bomb. Another way of looking at it is that Time magazine was right in stating: “Israel has vastly compounded the difficulties of procuring a peaceful settlement of the confrontation in the Middle East.”

5. Crovitz does not tell us that Israel has been seriously considering a preemptive bombing of the Iranian nuclear power plant outside Tehran, which the neocons in the Bush administration and the Journal‘s editors would celebrate as well.