President Bush is making life very difficult for his supporters. His policy requires a “regime change” in Iraq, which means Saddam has to go. Saddam is not one to go quietly, which means that military action is necessary. But the President keeps saying that no decision on military action has been made. Poor Vice President Cheney was sent out last week to start making the case against Saddam, but he was left twisting in the wind, reciting the “no decision” mantra. The president’s indecision has produced an eerie feeling in Washington and among our allies, both real and Saudi. An essential part of leadership is communication. If the president wants to unite the American people behind military action, and have any chance of gaining support from our allies among the EUnuchs of NATO, he has to announce a decision, and explain the reasons for it. He risks much by delaying, because the chatter in Washington and overseas is building a tide of opinion against action.
The New York Times has literally turned itself inside out, dedicating its front page and op-eds into a campaign against military action. It has pumped up statements by the Republican Old Guard to chastise Dubya for going ahead against Saddam. Last Sunday, Colin Powell — always first for appeasement — said that inspections would be a first step towards resolving the Iraq crisis. According to the BBC, Mr. Powell added that the U.S. needed to present “all available evidence” of our “suspicions about Iraq to the international community so that an informed judgment could be made about possible military action.” That, of course, amounts to surrendering the decision to those who will leave Saddam where he is. It’s time to rein Mr. Powell in. Again.
After the first and second Punic Wars, the threat to Roman interests in Africa revived because the Carthaginians weren’t defeated. The great orator Cato the Elder ended each of his speeches with, “Carthago esse delendum” — “I am of the opinion that Carthage must be destroyed.” Mr. Bush is saying, in essence, “Saddam esse delendum” but nothing more.
Many of us who remember Vietnam also remember the danger of a divided country in wartime. The war against terror is different, and the president will have the support he needs from Americans and Congress if only he asks for it. Without delay, the president should make a series of speeches announcing the decision to remove Saddam’s regime by military action, and asking the American people for their support.
Mr. Bush needs to drive home several points. First, he needs to explain that our best intelligence says that Saddam has chemical and biological weapons, and the means to deliver them, right now. He needs to say that Saddam is buying and producing more of them, and that we know he intends to use them against us. Our best intelligence says that Saddam is less than two years away from having nuclear weapons. Mr. Bush should say that if we wait for Saddam to get them, we will have to fight a nuclear war to put him out of business. That prospect alone requires action be taken now.
The president should explain that we know Saddam is a significant part of the terrorist network. Mr. Bush’s speech need not give the details of all our intelligence. But he does need to say as much as he can. We know Saddam funds the Palestinian suicide bombers. Intelligence and public evidence given by defecting Iraqi officers exposed the large terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, south of Baghdad. Terrorists — probably including al-Qaeda — have been training there for years. Saddam may or may not have helped al-Qaeda in the 9-11 attacks, but he is now harboring al-Qaeda that fled Afghanistan, as well as other terrorists who still train in Iraq and are funded by it. The president should say that we have good reason to believe that Saddam will share chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction with terrorists. And those terrorists will use them to attack Americans here and abroad.
As Khidir Hamza — who ran Saddam’s nuclear weapons program for two decades — told me, Saddam will give chemical and biological weapons to terrorists to use against Americans. And, as Dr. Hamza also told me, Saddam will do anything to get nuclear weapons to deter us and to impose his will on his neighbors, including Israel.
Mr. Bush needs to go back to his own method of post 9-11 diplomacy: make them an offer they must refuse. It’s the good guy version of the Corleone family tactic. In his September 20 speech to Congress last year, Mr. Bush demanded that the Taliban surrender Osama bin Laden to us. He knew they wouldn’t give us OBL, but the demand placed America in the position where war was clearly justified by their refusal. Britain’s Tony Blair may give Saddam a deadline for allowing the unlimited weapon inspections required under the 1991 cease-fire agreements. Saddam will never accept unlimited inspections, and establishing a very short deadline for him to do so frees us to act — unilaterally or otherwise — any time after that deadline. Mr. Blair shouldn’t do this, Mr. Bush should.
Mr. Bush also needs to send a message to the Iraqi people. We will defeat Saddam, and then help rebuild Iraq as a free nation, which a free people will rule. We come as a liberator as we did to France and the rest of Europe — including Germany — in World War II. Mr. Bush should speak directly to the Iraqi people and say that as we did in Bosnia, and as we are doing in the Philippines and elsewhere, we act to free Muslims from oppression. Our enemies are Saddam and the terrorism produced by the ideology of Islamicism, about which more in another column.
Mr. Bush’s last point must also be that when we defeat Saddam, the war on terror will not be over. He needs to identify the enemy that stalks freedom the world over. Saddam is, after all, a secular dictator. Unlike the mullahs of Iran, he doesn’t cloak his outlawry in a religious disguise. Islamicist terror, such as Iran sponsors, and the Saudis fund, is the long term, bitter enemy of Americans and all who love freedom. Our war against it began in Afghanistan, and will not end in Iraq. The true identity of this enemy needs to be explained, but not in the context of Iraq.
Mr. Bush must also ask Congress for a resolution authorizing this war. He will get it if he shares with Congress the reasons behind his decision. There will be disagreement and debate, but that is what our nation requires to unite behind this war. Last September, Mr. Bush calmed America and told us to go back to normal. We did. But “normal” in America is not war. We need to get ourselves in the mindset we need for war, which can only be created by Mr. Bush’s reasoned leadership. America will be a safer place when Mr. Bush can say, “Saddam delendum est.” Saddam has been destroyed.
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