Washington — The balloon goes up on St. Patrick’s Day. That is what people here in our nation’s capital are saying. Last Thursday the President set the timpani rolling. At his press conference he made it clear that about the last drop of vigor had been wrung out of diplomacy. He might have added that the more we showed good faith by resorting to diplomacy the more difficult we were making it for our fighting forces…and for our diplomats. Friday at the United Nations our government and Britain’s made it pretty clear: March 17 will be the day of Saddam’s next and, one hopes, final defeat.
He is the man who raped Kuwait and got his own army mangled in what he vaingloriously declared “the Mother of all Battles.” Prior to that he attacked Iran, and got his army and his country mangled. Now by repeatedly breaking the terms of his peace agreement after 1991’s “Mother of all Battles” he will again be mangled. After his defeat in the Gulf War, I well remember asking Robert Gates, then head of our Central Intelligence Agency, why we did not go in and finish Saddam off, leaving him in the same state of incarceration that we once left Panama’s drug-dealing dictator Manuel Noriega or in a coffin. Gates said the first Bush Administration thought that the Iraqis would overthrow Saddam. Washington then did not perceive how tightly Saddam controlled his country. It is unthinkable that the mistake will be made a second time.
Thus by the time I file my next column for the morning Sun we shall be at war. And by the time I file the following column, that is to say by March 25, the war will be about over. We will be mopping up, possibly with the help of what is left of the Iraqi army. It is amazing how the so-called moderates and peace advocates have brought confusion to what is after all a pretty straightforward condition in Iraq. To begin with, Saddam is vastly weaker than he was in 1991. All that might make him more dangerous is that he might have weapons of mass destruction, which, incidentally, he insists he does not have. Even if he has these weapons he will be routed. Our weapons are hugely more accurate and lethal than in 1991. Our forces are trained for a wider range of possibilities. It is doomsday for Saddam.
Moreover it is not true that Britain and the United States stand alone. Nor is it true that we have acted impetuously. Using the diplomacy that he has gotten no credit for using, President George W. Bush has assembled nearly one hundred other countries to pursue terrorism. The Arab emirates and Jordan are in favor of regime change in Iraq, and I would not count Turkey out just yet. Most of the European nations are with us in demanding regime change with the dramatic exceptions of France, Germany, Belgium, and Russia — though I would not count Russia out when the balloon goes up. Russia’s problems with Islamic terror are inescapable. Finally the President has been patient with the United Nations. His responsibility, however, is primarily to securing the safety of American citizens, not to attending to the vanities of U.N. popinjays.
Today the handwringers are again portraying Washington as reckless and macho — or affecting the cowboy style, as they say. Look back over the history of international relations from the end of World War II to the end of the Cold War. Washington was always being portrayed as reckless by the heirs to Neville Chamberlain’s umbrella and top hat. The only time I can think of an American intrusion into international relations that failed to rouse their indignation was when we importuned on the British and the French at the time of the Suez crisis to desist. And on that occasion our irenic impulse was wrong. Throughout the Cold War the “non-aligned powers” and the likes of France were lecturing us on our cowboy ways even as in their heart of hearts they were hoping we prevailed against the Communists lest the Communists turn their attentions on them.
Now the Coalition of the Willing is about to rid the world of the gravest threat to peace since the USSR. Once again the handwringers have turned their false pieties against us rather than against the power that actually menaces peace and is in breach of international accord, Iraq. President Jacques Chirac is leading the hypocrites’ chorus. It puts me in mind of 1986 when then Prime Minister Chirac refused to allow our warplanes to fly over French soil en route to Colonel Qaddafi’s Libya. The planes were retaliating against Qaddafi’s murder of an American soldier and the injuring of over 200 others (at least 50 of them American soldiers) in an explosion in a West Berlin disco. In my column at the time I wondered whether the French would “have allowed our planes to fly over a more precisely designated route, leapfrogging such places as Ardennes, Suresnes, Rhone, the Lorraine Valley, St. James, St. Laurent, and Epinal. All contain military cemeteries where American men lie face up, forever gazing into the skies of France. Surely these men would not object if they were to see once more the underbelly of an American bomber flying far from home to defend the values of the West.”
There have been times when a Frenchman showed courage against tyrants. Back in 1986 I reminisced about President Charles de Gaulle’s response during the Cuban Missile Crisis. “If there is war,” de Gaulle assured President Kennedy’s emissary, Dean Acheson, “France will be with you.” Later when the Soviet ambassador threatened de Gaulle in his office at the Elysée Palace with nuclear incineration, de Gaulle rose from behind his desk, extended his hand in farewell and said, “Alas, Mr. Ambassador, we’ll die together! Goodbye, Mr. Ambassador.” Of course, this time around we face not the formidable Soviets but Saddam Hussein and the terrorists he harbors. Though M. Chirac is still a laggard we can summon up the wisdom of another Frenchman, whose insights into war are appropriate to the occasion. As we listen to the claims that Saddam’s friends worldwide will pounce on us when the balloon goes up, remember Napoleon’s remark about the pacifying qualities of “a whiff of grapeshot.”
We shall be visiting much more than grapeshot on Saddam Hussein next week, and then peace will have a better chance in the Middle East than it has had in years.