Washington — To those of us with a memory for American military action in the world the sudden and seemingly increate controversy over whether to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein is another example of public persons frivoling with serious matters. Of course, after all the hand-wringing and strutting subsides, we are going to take out Saddam Hussein. He is a dangerous man whose treacherous ambitions have made the most dangerous place on earth — the Middle East — even more dangerous. For three or more memorable decades during the last half of the Twentieth Century the most dangerous place on earth was the geography near the Iron Curtain. American military might have saved Europe and much of the world from the domination of tyrants and the incineration of nuclear war. We had no other option but to resist the tyrants. We have no option now.
When we stood staunchly against Soviet might, “hawkish” America was the butt of ridicule. Poets and playwrights satirized our generals and our hard-line politicians. Their plays and films look foolish now that the Cold War has been concluded peacefully, the American policy of resistance having been vindicated. When we chose to resist the Soviets in 1947 they possessed the most powerful army on earth and the world’s largest empire. Now we face roaming bands of suicidal terrorists and in a backward country a malevolent dictator, who is developing weapons that will be able to cause enormous suffering. Saddam will never have the Soviets’ nuclear arsenal, but his arsenal of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons would be a grave menace to the world. Moreover he is more apt to use it than the eminently more rational Soviets were to use theirs. It is only a matter of time before we do the rational thing and oust him.
Yet from nowhere the handwringers have emerged. I am not thinking of the anti-war elements on the left. They have been pretty much marginalized. Their instinctive anti-Americanism gives them away. Their record of false prophecies and of futile diplomatic panaceas has discredited them with the American people. But over the last two weeks we have seen the emergence of such handwringers as Brent Scowcroft, Congressman Dick Armey and in the media the New York Times and its confrères. In a refrain that we have heard before they depict those who would eliminate Saddam as cowboys and war hawks unmindful of coalition-building and the long-term consequences of toppling Saddam. They raise the specter of another Vietnamese quagmire.
The sudden controversy puts me in mind of the very same controversy that preceded our last attack on Iraq in 1991. In the most august circles of influence the handwringers were wailing. I well remember a CNN television show where I was surrounded by the likes of Al Hunt, Mark Shields, and Pat Buchanan, all prophesying endless war if we hit Saddam. Even Robert Novak seemed hesitant. My response then was the same as my response today, to wit: “If Saddam is so powerful how is it that Israel has remained in existence?” Why has Saddam not conquered the lands Alexander the Great took with an army on foot? I was never invited back on that television show and the false prophets of our doom have never acknowledged their error.
Today Saddam is vastly weaker than he was in the early 1990s. His appetite for weapons of mass destruction is as great as ever. And the Middle East is possibly even more incendiary than it was before our first attempts at “regime change.” America is going to have to act. There is no doubt that we shall consult our allies. Nor is there any doubt that we shall demonstrate the prudence that we have customarily demonstrated when using our military might. The poets and the playwrights’ satirization of “hawkish” America is precisely the opposite of the truth.
As I said at the beginning of this column there is something almost increate about the present controversy. For months there seemed to be unanimity about the need to remove Saddam. Nothing has changed. Yet, now, seemingly without cause, a posture is being struck by instant opponents of war such as the editors of the New York Times. The Times has even hazarded its own credibility by misidentifying Henry Kissinger as an opponent of the Bush policy, though Kissinger has written that there is “an imperative for preemptive action” in Iraq.
This controversy is not serious. It merely reflects the frivolity of some of the country’s leading public persons. In the end they will quiet down, and after consultation the Administration will act for the straightforward reason House Majority Whip Tom DeLay intoned this week: “Defeating Saddam Hussein is a defining measure of whether we will wage the war on terrorism fully and effectively.” After September 11 the majority of Americans understand that we have no alternative. Not even the Soviets gave us such exigent reason to stand firm.