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Jewish World Review August 20, 2002 / 12 Elul, 5762

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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No time for equivocation | America, and Americans, stand at a historic moment. Traditionally, democracies do not go to war barring attack on themselves or an ally. So it is that the question now is asked: How can the United States justify initiating hostilities against Iraq at a time of peace? It is the wrong question. Better to ask how America can justify not going to war against Saddam Hussein-and at the earliest possible moment.

President Bush makes the case succinctly and correctly when he calls Baghdad the "worst regime in possession of the worst weapons." This double whammy poses for the world a set of wholly unacceptable risks. Consider the sociopath that is Saddam Hussein. Yes, he nurtures an implacable hatred of America. But he also waged a brutal eight-year war against neighbor-ing Iran, overran Kuwait, and then threatened the Saudi kingdom. Don't care much for the neighborhood? Perhaps it's worth remembering that 60 percent of the world's oil lies beneath the broiling sands of Araby. But this isn't just about oil.

It's about terrorism. Saddam, remember, is the same murderous despot who didn't scruple over gassing thousands of his own people while stockpiling enormous caches of chemical, biological, and, it is believed by the world's intelligence services, other weapons of mass destruction. So back to our initial question, but put another way: Are we simply to wait while Saddam accumulates more weapons of annihilation and amuses himself in deciding which terrorist group to favor with a gift of his lethal toys?

This is not, as it happens, a theoretical concern. British intelligence recently revealed that Saddam was planning to give biological weapons to Palestinian terrorists to attack America and Israel. The reality we must live with is this: that our vast conventional power can no longer deter every fanatic or sworn foe of America bound on slipping weapons of mass destruction through our porous borders and using them against us, even if it means losing their own lives.

The gambler. The imperative for pre-emption of Saddam lies at the juncture of the man's character and the nature of his weaponry. A policy of containment and deterrence-the tools we apply, say, to North Korea-simply will not work with Iraq. Why? First, because Saddam is incalculably ruthless. He rose to power by leading a gang of street thugs and assassins, then had his political opponents murdered or, when the spirit moved him, did the job himself. He subdued the Kurds by slaughtering them by the thousands. He used chemical weapons and nerve gas against Iraqi civilians, killing 5,000 in a single day. In the early 1980s, he started the war with Iran that killed up to a million people and cost over $500 billion. After his tanks rolled into Kuwait in 1990, Iraqi troops routinely murdered and tortured residents of the tiny gulf emirate. For good measure, Saddam then rained missiles on Saudi Arabia and Israel. When he was finally brought to heel by the American-led coalition in Operation Desert Storm, the mustachioed dictator from Central Casting gratuitously set Kuwait's oil fields afire before fleeing back to Baghdad. This is a man, clearly, who regards himself as utterly unencumbered by the normal constraints on power, ruling Iraq as his personal fiefdom by fiat and by fear.

Another reason to eschew conventional thinking when pondering the Iraqi problem is that Saddam is, to put it charitably, not entirely rational. Time and again he has proved himself a reckless, and feckless, gambler, instinctively aggressive, yet operating with an intelligence of the outside world drawn almost entirely from sycophants and blinkered courtiers. He is, in this regard, not only like the high-stakes poker player who doesn't know when to hold 'em and fold 'em but like a country rube in his first casino who only dimly fathoms the rules of the game.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Saddam not only woefully misjudged Iran's capacity to respond to his provocations in the early 1980s but miscalculated America's resolve to liberate Kuwait a decade later. After signing a humiliating (but flawed) cease-fire agreement after Desert Storm, Saddam still thought he could brazen his way through the mandated United Nations weapons inspections. Who knows what deluded notions might becloud his megalomaniacal mind next week or next year should he finally acquire a nuclear device or find a way to weaponize all those chemical and biological agents?

A less heedless man might not let his hostile intentions be quite so transparent. But Saddam is nothing if not heedless. Before he finally evicted the U.N. weapons inspectors, they discovered nearly 20,000 liters of concentrated botulinum, the most deadly substance on Earth, and nearly 9,000 liters of anthrax. More recent intelligence reporting suggests an intense, almost fanatical Iraqi effort to acquire fissionable materials, miniaturization equipment for atomic weapons, and, perhaps, ballistic missiles. Since there have been no inspectors in Iraq for the past four years, no one can say for sure how much progress Saddam's weapons builders have really made, but German intelligence believes he will have one or more nuclear weapons by 2005.

The admission of U.N. inspectors to Iraq at this late date offers no solution either, for as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld points out, Saddam has had plenty of time to hide the paraphernalia of his weapons of mass destruction. A defector from Iraq's nuclear weapons program in 1996 described how Saddam hid nuclear facilities all over the country, converting buildings to look like firehouses, schools, and warehouses. It is folly, in any case, given the lamentable Iraqi record, to believe that Saddam would give outside inspectors anything like unfettered access.

Which brings us once again to the question of pre-emptive action. Is America ready? Will President Bush have the nation's support? I believe Americans understand how exposed we are and will support the president. For his part, George W. Bush feels he has a moral obligation to act. Those who predict dire results if we try to unseat Saddam simply refuse to understand-as President Bush manifestly does-that if we opt to live with a nightmare, it will only get worse. Much worse. The best medicine here, in other words, is preventive medicine.

Friends-and foe. It is therefore incumbent upon all elements of the Bush team to act intelligently and to speak with one voice. If the State Department is seen to be operating at cross purposes with the White House, as has been true in too much of American foreign policy, things will be much more difficult. Clearly, we must do more to explain the rationale for action against Iraq and enlist the support for such a course among our allies. Their nervousness stems in part from concerns that we will not properly finish what we start, as we did not in Kuwait and in Somalia a few years later. Fortunately, much of the world, including most Arab leaders, is more hostile to Saddam in private conversation than anyone cares to admit in public. In Arab and European leaders, we have a potentially receptive, though still skeptical, audience. It is for us now to remove the last vestiges of skepticism and to make plain and compelling the argument that action is the only appropriate and acceptable course.

In marshaling this support, however, we must be careful not to allow others to dictate how America must act. We cannot be constrained by members of the international community whose interests cannot possibly be identical to our own.

With determination, the objective of regime change in Iraq can be achieved. The military aspects of intervention are well within America's capabilities, especially if we nourish allies like Turkey, Uzbekistan, Qatar, and Kuwait. Iraq's military forces are dramatically weaker than they were in 1991 and ours dramatically stronger and more lethal. Nor should we overestimate Saddam's support in Iraq, including within his military. No, Iraq is ready for change, and-who knows-such change could be a harbinger of better tidings throughout the region. After all, does the world really need the tired dictators in Syria, the angry ayatollahs in Iran, the murderers of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas, and the Wahabbistfanatics of Saudi Arabia? Can't we do better?

What America must do is assemble a visible force of overwhelming strength capable of dealing with every contingency, able to move at maximum speed to protect the oil fields and shut down the missile sites, and strong enough to provide the necessary margin for quick victory. Such an attack would obviously carry military and political risks. But it would also yield great benefits. It would remove the leader of the anti-American rejectionist front in the Middle East. It would give heart to moderates in Iran and send a clear message to terrorist-host countries like Syria. When it becomes clear that we and our allies have the will to carry out President Bush's doctrine, support and respect for America will spread throughout the region.

Nor should we be constrained by concerns about a postwar strategy, what one commentator calls the "and then what?" thesis, namely, that the next stage after Saddam's fall is too daunting. Nobody had a strategy for postwar Germany before Hitler was crushed. It was enough to say then, as it is now about Saddam, that removing him is far better than not.

Some raise issues of territorial disintegration. Baghdad is the heart of Iraq, home to 5 million people, containing its major infrastructures of industry, service, and government. What is less well known is that it is also 70 percent Shiite, thus integrating both Shiite and Sunni Muslims. As for concerns about regional instability, how can we assume that stability would be better associated with a man who invades one neighbor one day, assaults another the next, then spends years obsessively acquiring some of the most dangerous weapons on the planet?

What we may assume, for the moment, is that a leader would emerge from the many and varied factions in a post-Saddam Iraq. There are no guarantees, of course. But it is to be hoped that the Iraqi people, having endured a kind of repression under Saddam not seen since Stalin, would be blessed finally with a leader agreeable to shutting down all the secret weapons programs, tolerant of minorities, and devoted to the reconstruction of Iraq economically and politically. This is a leadership we must be prepared to support for an extended time, both militarily and economically.

President Bush and his team are embarked on the right course. They deserve our support.

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JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman