Bush, Saddam and Climate Change: What Might Have Been

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As the hunt for Saddam's WMD begins to look as promising as OJ's search for the real killers, it becomes tempting to think about what might have been. If only, for instance, the Bush Administration had adopted its posture on global warming when considering the evidence justifying the invasion of Iraq — and vice versa. Instead of fighting a lonely battle amid hostility and near anarchy in Iraq, the U.S. might have let inspections and containment continue to hobble Saddam forever, while we mustered a real coalition to confront North Korea, which is all but televising its efforts to build nuclear bombs. Instead of dismissing the overwhelming evidence that climate is changing, and alienating the 111 nations that have ratified or acceded to the Kyoto Treaty, the Administration could be leading the way to promote the technologies and policies that will be necessary to come to grips with a real threat to civilization.

In attempts to muster support for the March invasion, the Administration took a worst case scenario view in estimating Iraq's stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and then, in the State of the Union Address, President Bush credulously trumpeted bogus evidence that the Saddam was buying uranium from Niger. With climate change, however, the Bush Administration grasps at every whisper of doubt and demands a standard of proof that would make it difficult to prove that the earth orbits the sun.

In this world of what might have been, imagine a conversation between UN chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, last fall:

Blix: "We need at least a year to complete our inspections."
Powell: "Take 10 years; better yet let's wait until Saddam uses them."
Blix: "I'm not sure even the French will be willing to wait that long."
Powell: "Well the U.S. isn't going to waste money and risk lives on some hypothetical threat. Democracies don't invade other countries without incontrovertible proof of an imminent threat."
Blix: "And if we find that proof?"
Powell: "If it's a real threat, I'm sure Old Europe will unite behind us."

Imagine the conversation between VP Cheney and representatives of the coal industry:

Coal rep: "The science is uncertain!"
Cheney: "We'll be making tea by dipping Earl Grey in the Potomac before there's absolute certainty. When the threat is a potential calamity for the global food supply and economy, we have to act!"
Coal rep: "Fixing the problem will bankrupt the American economy."
Cheney: "Wrong, global warming will bankrupt the economy. Taking action will be the biggest stimulus since the end of WWII. Imagine the capital spending!"
Coal rep: "OK, OK, but the transition will still cost money. How much is the Administration prepared to spend?"
Cheney: "Will $3.9 billion a month help? It's a figure we think we can sell to Congress for dealing with extraordinary threats to stability."

Eugene Linden is the author of "The Future in Plain Sight: Nine Clues to the Coming Instability." His website is eugenelinden.com