The administration of US President George W. Bush would do itself a favor and the world a service by directly addressing a point of high suspicion concerning Iraq.
Bush wants an international confrontation with Iraq because, he says, the Iraqi dictator is consummately evil, a threat to international order, and inclined to help terrorists planning indiscriminate murder in the US and elsewhere.
In the US, those assertions pretty much define the debate. Good questions have arisen whether they warrant the use of force and whether the US should act independently of the United Nations.
Elsewhere in the world ? in the Middle East certainly and to a lesser extent in Europe ? observers see other motives. Among them is the supposed desire by the US government to control Iraq's oil fields.
This is the suspicion Bush should address. That he has not done so with much vigor probably reflects the natural desire not to honor the preposterous with response.
But he should respond. He should respond because many serious people harbor the suspicion. And he should respond because the suspicion is monumentally insulting to his country.
For the US to drive Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power in order to control Iraqi oil would be morally loathsome and strategically unsound.
Americans will not and should not support a military invasion of Iraq, or anywhere else, the main purpose of which is to control oil fields. Compounding the immorality of such imperialism would be America's refusal to fully explore and develop its own resources of oil and natural gas.
And the US doesn't need Iraq's oil fields. It just needs oil from them to flow in international trade. That should be the limit of strategic interest by the US in Iraqi oil.
Bush should say so.
And the rest of the world should suppress misplaced suspicions that have no relevance in modern geopolitics and that can only obscure what should be obvious: America has been viciously attacked on its own soil and has excellent reason to treat threats like Saddam Hussein more preemptively than it did before.
The motive isn't conquest; it's self-defense.
(Online Nov. 1, 2002; author's e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)