Live From New York

The Time Is Now

A madman armed with deadly modalities is loose in the Middle East, threatening the stability of the entire world.

By and 9.18.02

Send to Kindle

There are some things we don't make jokes about. War is one of them, unless, of course, it involves in-laws.

In the Second World War there were 50 million people killed -- 25 million in the Soviet Union alone -- and 300,000 Americans died in combat. Churchill said that there was never a war in history easier to avoid than the Second World War. It could have been avoided perhaps, if we had supported the Weimar Republic, or not allowed Hitler's re-arming of Germany, or if the democracies had stood firm when Hitler marched into the Rhineland, or if Chamberlain had not surrendered Czechoslovakia, or even going back to the treaty ending the First World War, if that document were less of a monument to greed, national selfishness and the acquisition of empires. And yet, a great many opportunities were lost and the world was sucked into a six-year conflict begun by an evil megalomaniac.

Today, the Iraqi situation is much the same, albeit with different players and involving different stakes. The safest road for President Bush to take would be to give in to his critics and do nothing. After all, America is not under national attack by concerted Iraqi armed forces, we have no empire or land we want to acquire in the Middle East, we have no American presence in Iraq that is threatened, we are seemingly not supported by our former real and purported allies in any Iraqi adventure, and there are many domestic problems that need to be addressed. However, we would have to be suffering from myopia unto blindness not to see that in an interconnected world, a madman armed with deadly modalities is loose in the Middle East, threatening the stability of the entire world.

No one in America now opposed to going to war with Iraq would deny that Iraq possesses catastrophic biological and chemical weapons of war. We know Saddam has no moral compunction that inhibit their use. Indeed, he has already used them not only on his enemies, but also on his own people: witness 100,000 murdered Kurds.

Iraq has admittedly manufactured mustard gas, botulinum bacteria, carcinogenic materials and anthrax. To appreciate the effect of these materials on a Richter scale of devastation, a gram of anthrax contains 1 trillion spores, enough to kill 100 million people. When the U.N. inspectors left in 1998 they estimated that still hidden were 6,000 chemical bombs and 550 shells loaded with mustard gas. Saddam, whose credibility must be far south of that of a used car salesman, claims to have destroyed almost 200 bombs, including 25 missiles filled with poison.

Saddam, characterized as "a murderous dictator" by Vice President Cheney, is capable on a personal level of unspeakable cruelties against persons as disparate as a 70-year-old nun, beheaded on the streets of Baghdad last month, and former President Bush, whom he attempted to have assassinated.

To believe that if left unfettered Saddam would not acquire nuclear capability is naive. In the history of the world, there has never been an instrumentality of war, from the bow and arrow to gun powder to armed rockets, that once discovered by one nation was in time not utilized by every nation. It was, in the perverse logic of terror, lucky that an attack on this nation came on September 11, 2001, rather than at a later time when we would be equally unprepared, but when those who hate us would have nuclear weapons at their disposal.

It cannot be disputed that Saddam Hussein would have had an A-bomb years ago but for Israeli jets that in 1981 bombed into total destruction -- and to almost universal condemnation -- Iraq's nuclear reactor located in Osiraq. No one disputes that Saddam Hussein is now actively seeking nuclear weapons -- the only dispute is when he will acquire them (if he has not already done so). The International Atomic Energy Agency that entered Iraq after the Gulf War said Saddam was only six months away from developing such a weapon. Today, Mr. Cheney places the time frame as "fairly soon." It is entirely logical to assume that in a world filled with dishonorable people and rogue states, somewhere, somebody, somehow, at a price Saddam will pay, will supply him with the 44 lbs. of enriched uranium or plutonium needed to build an A-bomb. He may be sitting, as we speak, with some Russian or Chinese or even American scientist, disenchanted, angry or greedy enough, who is prepared for a price to turn over the knowledge and material sufficient to make the world tremble before a nuclear-armed Saddam.

There is much talk about resuming inspections which hopefully, would prevent Saddam from hiding weapons of mass destruction. Aside from the fact that Saddam has refused to let even this charade take place, the efficacy of inspections has to be realistically viewed.

If you lose a collar stay or an earring in a bedroom, it is often difficult to find. But with some perseverance, after you turn the bedroom inside out, it usually can be found. If you lose it somewhere in the whole house it will be almost impossible to find. However, if the earring was hidden somewhere in the house, your grandchildren would be collecting Social Security before you found it. Now, compare this with the hope of finding something hidden in an entire country composed of rocky terrain -- caves, deserts and mountains -- 166,878 square miles in area. To make matters worse, these biological and chemical weapons could be developed in hospital laboratories, garage-size environments, or buildings in or adjacent to those housing legitimate manufacturing sites.

General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said: "It does not take a lot of space for some of this work to go on. It can be done in a very, very small location. And the fact that you could put it on wheels makes it a lot easier to hide from people that might be looking for it."

Some critics acknowledge the reality that on a practical basis, the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons can be hidden from inspectors. Satellites cannot see into buildings and President Bush does not have the luxury, as did President Kennedy, who was able to show the world satellite photos of Russian missiles in Cuba. However, say these critics, inspection and satellite imagery would, at least, prevent the manufacture of nuclear devices. They point out the fabrication of the necessary radioactive material requires tremendous amounts of electricity. Satellite photographs would reveal the electrical lines, poles, generator structures and so forth necessary to deliver this electricity. However, we harbor the unworthy thought that if people are smart enough to design and build atomic bombs, somehow, in some manner, whether they bury the wires under the ground or build their own generators indoors, or develop some methodology that is beyond our technical abilities to envision, they will figure out a way to do it.

It seems to us this country right now is like a fellow who goes to a dentist, and the dentist tells him he has a cavity that needs to be attended to immediately. The patient says it doesn't bother him, so why should he undergo the drilling and all the attendant discomfort necessary to fill the cavity? The dentist knows, and common sense should tell the patient, that unless the cavity is filled now, he is in for much more grief and pain later, and ultimately he may lose the tooth. The doctor in our case is the President, and it makes good common sense for us to listen to the doctor. Sadly, some people never do -- until it is too late.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Jackie Mason is a comedian.

About the Author

Raoul Felder is a lawyer.