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Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 2001 / 4 Kislev, 5762

Michael Barone

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Now, on to Baghdad --
WHAT comes next in our war against terrorism? The collapse of the Taliban in Afghanistan is not yet complete as this is written, and it may take months to track down Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders in their caves. But it seems likely-not certain, but likely-that America and its allies will not need large amounts of manpower and materiel in Afghanistan. They can be deployed elsewhere. "Afghanistan is the beginning of our efforts in the world," George W. Bush told the Warsaw antiterrorism conference November 6. "We will not rest until terrorist groups of global reach have been found, have been stopped, and have been defeated. And this goal will not be achieved until all the world's nations stop harboring and supporting such terrorists within their borders."

Which brings to mind Iraq. Iraq's connection with al Qaeda has already been established. September 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta twice journeyed to Prague, in June 2000 and April 2001, to meet with an Iraqi intelligence agent. This was confirmed by Czech Republic ministers on October 26 and November 9. The London Observer reported November 11 that top U.S. intelligence leaders said they had "credible information" that two other September 11 hijackers had met with Iraqi intelligence agents. The Financial Times on November 4 quoted a senior U.S. defense official as saying, "We now realize that there have been a lot of contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda-it's more than a lot of people assume, but it doesn't take you all the way down the road to evidence of clear complicity."

Unfinished business. That last caveat may have been prudent earlier this month, to avoid alerting Saddam Hussein and to hold together our coalition-many of whose members are queasy about taking on Iraq-while we were concentrating on Afghanistan. But even then Bush may already have decided to go after Iraq. On November 7, Secretary of State Colin Powell, long assumed to be reluctant to target Iraq, said, "We will turn our attention to terrorism throughout the world. And nations such as Iraq, which have tried to possess weapons of mass destruction, should not think that we will not be concerned about those activities and will not turn our attention to them." We know that Iraq has been trying to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons for years. And Iraq has not concealed its hostility to our war against terrorism. The civilized world cannot consider itself safe so long as Saddam's regime remains in power in Iraq.

The lead has to be taken by the United States. Bush has probably already tried to persuade British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin to overcome their aversion to taking on Iraq. The leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt will not like it if we go into Iraq. But they did not like our going into Afghanistan either, and they cannot stop us. The Bush administration's rhetorical support of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are presumably intended to make a war in Iraq less unpalatable to these leaders. But Bush's refusal to meet with Yasser Arafat at the United Nations and Condoleezza Rice's harsh condemnation of Palestinian violence suggest he will not pressure Israel to accept an agreement that does not preserve its security.

The Pentagon and the Central Command presumably have long had contingency plans for a war with Iraq. We already have military assets in place. Bases available in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Turkey can provide a platform for air power considerably closer to Iraq than the bases and carriers we have used in the air war in Afghanistan. We maintain no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. The Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south are hostile to Saddam's regime. So surely are many other Iraqis. And there is a resistance movement, the Iraqi National Congress. Unfortunately, it appears that many in the U.S. government have been dismissive of the INC, as many were of the Northern Alliance until this week. But our success in Afghanistan suggests that American air power, with critical assistance from agents on the ground, can prevail against a terrorist-supporting regime that is deeply unpopular among the people it rules. Cooperation with the INC could bring an additional asset to the fight in Iraq and to the construction of a post-Saddam government.

An end to Saddam's regime would be a major defeat for terrorism and would give us great leverage in getting others-Iran and Syria, Saudis and Palestinians-to shut down terrorist movements. Winter, some say, is a bad time for war in Afghanistan. Everyone agrees that winter is a good time for war in Iraq. The time may come soon for George W. Bush to say again, "Let's roll."

Michael Baone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2001, Michael Barone