Placards with "No blood for oil" adorn anti-war protests. That slogan gained respectability last week from the respectable Nelson Mandela.

The vile accusation that President Bush would sacrifice young American servicemen and women for cheap oil was among the insults Mandela hurled. This was disappointing to those of us who had long put Mandela on a pedestal.

Yet Mandela showed no greatness when accusing George W. Bush -- a serious and decent man, by all accounts -- of having "no foresight," saying Bush "cannot think properly [and] is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust."

Mandela then played the race card. Despite operatic machinations at the United Nations since Sept. 12 -- when Bush personally urged the U.N. to act against the U.N. outlaw, Saddam Hussein -- Mandela accused Bush of ignoring the U.N.

"Is this because the secretary general of the United Nations is now a black man?" he asked rhetorically.

Gifted public servants -- whether Kofi Annan, Colin Powell or Condi Rice -- shouldn’t have to have race constantly thrown at them, especially by someone who personifies justice.

Which raises the question of how much justice Mandela seeks for the Iraqi people. Evidently not much, as he’s silent on their suffering.

When addressing Congress in June 1990, Mandela praised the U.S. for having "given us the power to join hands with all people of conscience to fight for the victory of democracy and human rights throughout the world."

Is not such "victory of democracy and human rights" due the people of Iraq? Could not George W. Bush and Tony Blair be considered "people of conscience" for their desire to end the brutal regime? One far worse than the Afrikaner regimes that cruelly imprisoned Mandela and repressed blacks.

After Mandela’s ad hominems and hypocrisy came the zinger: "They just want the oil," he said of Bush and Blair.

Were that true, they could "just" get "the oil" quite easily, by scrapping the sanctions the U.N. imposed on Iraq a dozen years ago. Lifting these sanctions would free up all Iraqi oil, much more quickly and easily than war.

That’s precisely why the French appease Saddam. "They" -- indeed -- "just want the oil." Hence they care little about Iraqi suffering or Saddam’s hell-bent drive for weapons of mass destruction.

Moreover, Iraq’s huge oil reserves prove two key points. First, just how desperately Saddam clings to his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. His refusal to scrap them 12 years ago, as he pledged, cost Iraq more than $100 billion in lost oil revenue, perhaps as much as $200 billion. That’s a lot to forgo for a WMD arsenal. But it’s WMD that Saddam values most. No price his people pay is too high for his personal ambitions.

Second, Iraq’s having gobs of oil shows how principled America and England are. For unlike the French and Russians, our leaders -- both Republican and Democratic, Labour and Conservative -- have willingly sacrificed acquiring cheaper oil to force Saddam’s scrapping his WMD arsenal.

It was a nice try, but that effort obviously hasn’t worked. So force must now be used.

Two last points on "blood for oil."

First and most obvious, it’s ugly to accuse any U.S. president to waste the lives of American soldiers, sailors and airmen for oil -- way beneath Mandela.

Second, Iraq’s having substantial reserves -- and the whole Middle East holding much of the world’s oil supply -- is a legitimate factor in our concerns in the region.

Noble Peace Prize winner Mandela’s recent mention of oil brings to mind a recent Noble Peace Prize winner’s focus on oil in 1979. After the Soviets brutally invaded Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter asserted the Carter Doctrine, which offered U.S. protection of Gulf states precisely because of their abundant oil.

During the Gulf War, the "blood for oil" placard was first hoisted. As the preeminent oil expert, Daniel Yergin, wrote in the New York Times last August: "The focus even then [during the 1991 Gulf War] was not so much on access to oil as on the ability of a Greater Iraq to transmutate oil into economic, political and military power -- especially weapons of mass destruction."

Since then, new oil stocks, including those from Russia, have reduced the world’s reliance on Iraq, and somewhat on the Gulf states.

Moreover, Iraqi oil is not just there for the grabbing after liberation. Iraqi oil fields have become as dilapidated as has Iraq under Saddam. The successor government will need huge resources to modernize and expand its oil equipment for exploitation.

To turn Mandela and other critics on their head: Bush and Blair don’t act on the basis of "blood for oil." It’s Saddam who’s been on a clear path of "oil for blood." That now must end.

Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of TechCentralStation.com