Midnight for Baghdad
The shadow of January 27 is already upon us. It is menacing, and it cannot be dodged. Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, will that day report to the Security Council on the initial findings of his 130 inspectors in Iraq, but already he has concluded that Saddam Hussein has clearly violated a U.N. arms ban. Iraq has, says Blix, imported illegal material that could be used to build nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, even in 2000 and 2001. Blix says further inspection is required to determine if these materials have indeed been acquired for weapons of mass destruction--a wriggle hole that other countries may well argue should delay action against Saddam.
Here is a real test for the resolution and credibility of the Europeans. Blix, en route to Baghdad, has briefed Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, and the French president, Jacques Chirac. There is not much doubt about Blair. He has been a staunch ally, and he has also experienced close-up the vileness of the terrorists. The British have found a gang of North African terrorists making the deadly poison ricin, and last week a possible accomplice stabbed a British policeman to death.
There is a real difference between being kicked by a mule and reading about being kicked by a mule. We know. That is why terrorism is viewed by 91 percent of Americans as the top threat to us compared with just 64 percent in Europe. We cannot tolerate the prospect of Islamic fundamentalists getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction. They are immune to civilized political process, motivated not so much by a specific grievance as by a generalized hatred of the West. Not only are they prepared to commit suicide in service of their hatred; they have no bases or cities or assets we can destroy and thereby deter them. We have to pre-empt them.
Technology of terror. This is where Saddam Hussein deserves special attention. His is a secular regime, but it shares the hatred and won't hesitate to share the technology of terror. He has used chemical weapons against his own people and his neighbors, and he is irrational in ways we cannot understand. Remember that in 1993 he tried to assassinate former President George Bush in Kuwait--even though a successful plot would have caused the American government to destroy Saddam and his regime, whatever the cost.
This is not a man who can be relied upon to make the rational calculation of a chess player. This is a reckless gambler but one cunning and resourceful enough to pass on WMD, including ultimately nuclear weapons, so that they would not bear his fingerprints. This is a man who lied about having no biological-weapon capabilities in the 1990s until his son-in-law defected and disclosed the programs. This is a man who is clearly lying today when he says he destroyed these weapons and the records that described them. This is a man whose record is one of cheat and retreat, moving WMD out the back doors when the inspectors come in the front doors--as may well have happened last week when inspectors stumbled upon emptied chemical artillery warheads.
This is a man who cannot be indulged with time while he continues to use his oil moneys for murder. President Bush sees clearly that we cannot wait until the day when Saddam will be too strong to stop--as has happened in North Korea. Where would that situation be if it had been confronted sooner?
Yet too many people are still fixated on finding a smoking gun. Is there one? Even as "smoldering guns" emerge, the question misses the more crucial point. The answer is not in a detail but in a very large series of facts. Iraq is located in the midst of a region that has been a hotbed of global terrorism, including Shiite Islamists, personified by their ruling mullahs in Iran; Sunni Islamists of al Qaeda, funded primarily by Saudi Arabia; and Baathists from Iraq. They all have America in their gun sights. They would all be inspired if Saddam is allowed to flout the U.N. resolutions and erode America's credibility. They would all be less constrained if Saddam could get away with his deception. They would all be encouraged to overcome the psychological impulses not to use such weapons.
We simply cannot stand by while somebody so reckless may have the power to spread smallpox, anthrax, or ricin, say, and may soon be able to deliver some form of nuclear terror here. We must live with the fact that we are the No. 1 target in the world because we are the No. 1 country. We cannot be put in a position of having our security decided by the U.N. Security Council, some of whose members merely vote to serve their own national commercial interests, while others just blindly hope for the best.
Wishful thinking does not a policy make. We have been kicked once. We will not be kicked again--and we will not let the Security Council whistle in the dark. Hope is a good breakfast but a poor supper. We are on the midnight snack.
This story appears in the January 27, 2003 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.