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Jewish World Review Jan. 29, 2003 / 26 Shevat, 5763

Michael Kelly

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Consumer Reports

From a 'Senior Administration Official' | "This is not a declaration of war," said the senior administration official, speaking on the day before the president's State of the Union address. It was not, but it was a declaration of an iron determination to wage war against Iraq, no matter what, if war is necessary.

I spent half an hour or so on Monday interviewing, with some others, a "senior administration official," as the White House ground rules dictate the nomenclature. The conversation centered on the State of the Union. But as the pressing subject of the speech was the coming war with Iraq, so it was in the interview.

The senior administration official described a president who would accept an eleventh-hour peace, but strictly on his terms: the terms of complete "regime change." "This thing could still happen peacefully," the official said. "I mean, [Saddam Hussein] could disappear. The Iraqi people might realize how serious we are and take matters into their own hands." The official did not elaborate on the meaning of the word "disappear" or the phrase "take matters into their own hands."

The only other open (barely) conceivable path away from war, the official made clear, lay in Iraq's total and immediate disarmament. Even as the official spoke, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix was reporting to the Security Council that "Iraq appears not to have come to genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it."

There won't be much more of this, the official said. "Those who don't believe [Hussein] is a threat believe that the way to deal with this is to say, 'Give the inspectors time to find this.' They're not going to find anything because he's not going to let them find anything." The White House will accept further inspections, beyond a matter of weeks, only if the inspection dynamic is reversed, with Hussein's regime immediately, willingly and fully disclosing all weapons and weapons programs.

"Look, Saddam is a creature of habit," the senior administration official said. "For 11 years, he has been able to fool the United Nations and the inspectors. And the difference [now] is that it's over with." The official stressed this point repeatedly: "The burden of proof is not on the United States of America. The burden of proof is on Mr. Saddam Hussein."

But it is doubtful that even Iraq's total cooperation with the disarmament process would ultimately satisfy the White House. President Bush, the senior administration official made clear, regards Hussein in power as in itself an intolerable threat to American security.

"We cannot allow Iraq to get to the same position where North Korea is," the official said. "This guy is richer [than Kim Jong Il]. He's in an incredibly strategic location. He professes hatred for us, our friends, our closest allies in the region. He is a man who could create great havoc if not dealt with. And he is a man, as a result of his dealings with a shadowy network, who can harm Americans themselves. . . . And that's why we are going to deal with him."

The official described both Hussein and al Qaeda as "a great danger to America" in their very "nature" -- part of, and partners in, the war of terror against the United States. He spoke of a "connection between a despot who has got chemical, biological and eventually, perhaps, nuclear weapons, and a shadowy network that looks for financing, that looks for training, that looks for the equipment necessary to conduct their deeds."

"This is not America going to crush a singular army," he said. "It's America dealing . . . with terrorist networks, of which the Iraq situation is a part. . . . They say, 'You must focus on the war on terror.' This is the war on terror."

The official talked of the conflict, now and coming, in historical and frankly moral terms. "We have seen evil people arise in the past. We will see them in the future. And I believe our job . . . and the job of others who love freedom is to deal with them. Sometimes we can talk them out of their concerns, sometimes we can wait them out, and sometimes we have to deal with them head on."

If it comes down to "head on" against Iraq, he said, there will be no backing off. "Don't worry about it," he said, almost fiercely. "There will be strong resolution. We put one American in harm's way, I can assure you that . . . the determination will be the full might of the United States military to accomplish the objective." He added, jabbing the air once with his right hand: "We will achieve our objective."

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Michael Kelly is the editor of the Atalantic. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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