Insight Magazine

It Is Time for U.S. to Go to War Against Saddam

Posted Aug. 26, 2002
By Kenneth R. Timmerman

Voices are being raised in many quarters urging President George W. Bush to delay plans to invade Iraq and oust dictator Saddam Hussein. Democrats are trying to make it a partisan issue, as they did before the Persian Gulf War. A few of the usual suspects within the Republican Party question whether such an effort will succeed. Others, in Europe, deny our moral right even to make the attempt. The arguments most frequently raised assert that a U.S. thrust against Iraq (always seen by the Cassandras as a unilateral effort) somehow would jeopardize the "coalition" assembled by President Bush in the war on terror. As former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft opined recently in the Wall Street Journal, war in Iraq would "risk our campaign against terrorism, as well as stability and security" in the Middle East.

We have heard these arguments before. There was a famous moment shortly after Saddam invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, when President George H.W. Bush appeared to hesitate. His closest advisers &emdash; including then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell and then national security adviser Scowcroft &emdash; urged him to be cautious. But he listened when Margaret Thatcher, still in the prime of power, told him: "Don't go wobbly on me, George." Important principles such as national sovereignty and international law were at stake, not mere economic interests. It was no time to appease the Iraqi tyrant.

Just as leading Democrats quietly let it be known they were relieved that Bush was leading the nation after Sept. 11, so Republicans should be grateful it is "W." in command and not the likes of political generals Scowcroft or Powell. If any president in recent history has had a sense of moral priorities and national mission to equal that of Ronald Reagan, it is George W. Bush.

This president understands, in a way some of his advisers do not, that Saddam presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States and to the well-being of Americans. Why? Because secular dictator Saddam's goal is hegemony over Middle Eastern oil and only incidentally the destruction of Israel. If ever he succeeds, we can kiss our oil-based luxurious way of life goodbye and hunker down for a long world war.

Saddam now has had almost four full years without U.N. arms inspections. At the time the inspections ceased, former chief weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus estimated it would take Saddam just months to build a biological-weapons arsenal, less than one year to reconstitute his chemical weapons and to build a modest number of missiles to deliver them, and two to three years to build a nuclear weapon. We can only guess at his stockpiles of deadly weapons today.

Scowcroft and others now argue that the United States should press for a resumption of the inspections. This is absurd. Even with the inspections, Saddam kept building. It would take a relentless, hostile effort by determined on-the-ground inspectors to slow Saddam's plan to acquire nuclear weapons. Such an effort is far beyond the abilities or temperament of the current U.N. arms inspector, Hans Blix, who has spent the last three years delivering pseudoscientific research papers to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Indeed, in his previous job as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Blix repeatedly certified Saddam's "peaceful" intentions and urged further nuclear transfers to his regime even after the gulf war. It is time to cast aside the fig leaf of these international arms-control regimes and see the raw economic interests at stake. Western corporations and governments merely are seeking an excuse for lucrative but deadly technology deals with tyrants. We can't afford to pad their bottom line at the expense of our security.

What about that coalition? What about the Arabs, who are said to oppose a U.S.-led war against Saddam? To those arguments, I have a one-word response: leadership.

It is very clear from this reporter's travels in the Middle East that there are two main fears among regional leaders. Those who are inclined to help us, such as Kuwait, Jordan and Turkey, are afraid we will not commit the troops or have the willpower to go all the way. They fear a repeat of the fiasco of March 1991 that would leave Saddam standing in his bunker to fight another day. The president has pledged in public that he will not fight half a war. Now he must personally convince those leaders that this is the case. Success will win over any doubters later on.

The second fear is far more pernicious, but in my view presents tremendous opportunities for U.S. leadership. It is the fear among corrupt leaders such as the Saudis that a U.S.-led democratic revolution in Iraq would set an example their own subject peoples might seek to emulate. The Saudis and their friends have many highly paid lobbyists who will wave this red flag in the coming months. We should ignore it.

In interviews across Europe during the last two months this reporter has heard similar arguments again and again: The United States cannot afford to pursue unilateral policies; the United States has no right to invade Iraq; Saddam may be vicious but he poses no threat to the West. With the notable exception of Great Britain, Europe never has been known for leadership, and even less for moral courage. Rarely has a European government done the right thing for any reason other than expedience. The Europeans are hoping to revive Iraq as a lucrative market for arms sales and weapons technology &emdash; yet another luxury we can't afford. It is time to soldier on and do the right thing. Success on the battlefield will do the rest.

Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight magazine.