Jewish World Review March 4, 2003 / 30 Adar I, 5763

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Freedom: Our best export | President Bush last week laid out in broad terms his vision of a Middle East free of Saddam Hussein and the fear of weapons of mass destruction.

The president said, "A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions." Some critics of the president's decision to disarm Saddam Hussein absolutely, and by force if necessary, either suggest or claim outright that U.S. policy is being motivated by oil. Along with a number of journalists who were invited to the White House last week, I heard this president say without reservation and with absolute conviction that the U.S. policy is peace and freedom in the region, which he sincerely believes are essential to the safety of the American people.

The critics of the war against terror and the absolute disarmament of Saddam Hussein must overcome their partisan myopia and do their best to understand that there's nothing at stake here less than the very survival of our nation and democratic civilization.

In my opinion, the president has set us upon exactly the right course on the Middle East. Yes, it is in the interest of this energy-hungry nation to have stability in the region. But far more important is the elimination of dictators and despots who oppress their people and deny them even basic freedoms whether in the name of the secular Baath Party or radical Islamist ideology.

We have imported their oil and exported our dollars far too long without exporting as well democratic and capitalist market values. Democracy and markets offer the people of the Middle East their best hope for prosperity and freedom. The widespread impoverishment and unchecked extremism among radical Islamist factions will breed only further dangers to our way of life and democratic civilization everywhere.

The threat of terrorism and the uncertainty and impending prospect of war with Saddam Hussein continue to depress our markets and stifle business investment and economic growth. Consumer confidence is now at the weakest level in nine years, and investor confidence is at a historical low. "Our company's surveys have shown that business spending decisions have clearly been delayed because of uncertainty about the war," says Jason Trennert, senior managing director of ISI Group. Even Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has warned about Iraq's drag on the economy and the markets. As he told Congress last month, "Worries about the situation in Iraq contributed to an appreciable increase in oil prices. These uncertainties, coupled with ongoing concerns surrounding macroeconomic prospects, heightened investors' perception of risk." Stunningly clear talk from a man better known for obliqueness.

Israel's current problems are troubling proof of the cost of allowing uncertainty over terror to continue. Since Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations broke down in September of 2000, the main index of the Israeli stock market (the TA 100) has plunged 44 percent. Israel's economy has slowed from 6 percent annual growth to recession. And as you would expect, Israel's unemployment rate has increased dramatically to 10 percent.

Soundly defeating Saddam will also be an important disincentive to other states and radical Islamist terrorist groups who would harm Americans. As President Bush also said last week, "The passing of Saddam Hussein's regime will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training and offers rewards to families of suicide bombers." And, as Mr. Bush added, "Other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated."

Of course, even after Saddam is long gone, the cost of the threat of terrorism won't go away. We'll still face the danger from further attacks from al Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups. As a report from the Joint Economic Committee last year found, there are significant long-term costs of terrorism, such as the expense of additional security measures, or a "terrorist tax." That's in addition to the economic resources diverted toward security and away from private-sector activity.

But the best way to create a disincentive to terrorists in the future is to fight the war against Saddam with all of the resources and resolve we possess today. Saddam's threat to our security needs to be eliminated once and for all, and the message needs to be sent that terror against the United States from any radical group or state won't be tolerated. Otherwise, the cost of terror will only rise precipitously--both in economic terms and human life.

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Lou Dobbs is the anchor and managing editor of CNN's "Lou Dobbs Moneyline." Comment by clicking here.

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