Is Saddam Hussein the next Fidel Castro? So far, he has outlasted two American presidents: one who kicked him out of Kuwait, and another who bluffed and blustered and then only tickled him with a couple of Tomahawks. After Afghanistan, Saddam seemed alone on the top of the target list. It only remained for us, to paraphrase Toby Keith’s immortal words, “put a boot in his ass, it’s the American way.” I love that song.
But Dubya was distracted. Yassir Arafat, Enron, prescription drugs and a whole litany of Other Issues intervened. His administration promptly entered a downward spiral, with heated arguments between the usual suspects. The administration is split between the containment crowd — Colin Powell and George Tenet, who argue that Saddam poses no imminent threat — and advocates of military action such as Vice President Cheney and Big Dog Rumsfeld. In recent weeks, the containment crowd has been strengthened by an unprecedented series of leaks by malcontents, some of whom oppose particular war plans, and some who oppose any military action at all. In earlier days, people who leaked draft war plans would find themselves doing hard time. Some of them now are indeed doing hard time — waiting for lattes at the Capitol Hill coffee bar.
The president’s failure to resolve the internal fight has left a political vacuum here and abroad. Congress is now rushing to fill the vacuum. This week’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the Iraqi threat were more than just another dance at the Naysayers’ Ball.
The hearings posed three questions: First, is Iraq an immediate threat? Second, what are the options to deal with the threat? Third, what are our responsibilities after we remove Saddam? It’s pretty clear that the senators are not at all sold on the idea that Saddam needs to be removed in the foreseeable future, or that diplomacy can’t succeed in containing the threat. They clearly don’t believe the president’s descriptions of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs provide sufficient reason to take military action.
John Kerry of Massachusetts whined about why we can’t we peacefully co-exist with Iraq as we did with the Soviets? The answer is what one panel of experts called, “the pathology of Saddam Hussein.” Richard Butler, former head of UNSCOM — the United Nations weapons inspectors who were given the royal run around by the Iraqis — said that Iraqi statements denying the existence of their nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs were, simply, lies. The reason for the lies is what he called, “Saddam’s cataclysmic mentality.” Butler wondered aloud at Saddam’s continued hot pursuit of nuclear and other WMD. Especially after 9-11, Butler said, Saddam must know that any use of WMD would result in his own destruction. But, he said, “Saddam exhibits no sign of such intelligent judgment.” If Saddam doesn’t believe he will be destroyed if he uses WMD, he must be delusional.
Butler said he doubted Saddam had or would ever share WMD with terrorists. But that testimony contradicts U.S. strategists’ expectations. Our people believe that Saddam will share WMD with terrorists whenever he thinks it will further his goal of expanding Iraqi control over the region. There was little said at the hearings to oppose Butler’s opinion. But congressional hearings sometimes don’t give those who have the most informed opinion the chance to voice it.
If you haven’t read a book titled, “Saddam’s Bombmaker,” you should. I met him Wednesday. Dr. Khidir Hamza worked on Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program for over twenty years, and headed the program for much of that period. He was one of the first witnesses in the Senate hearings on Wednesday. While we were both waiting to appear on MSNBC’s “Hardball” program Wednesday evening, we spoke about some of what went unsaid in the hearing.
Dr. Hamza is no friend of Saddam but had close contact with him and his inner circle for two decades. His judgment of Saddam’s intentions must be given more weight than opinions of people who haven’t looked Saddam squarely in the eye. I asked Dr. Hamza if he agreed that Saddam would not give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. He disagreed. Strongly.
Saddam, he said, is a risk taker. Dr. Hamza thinks that there are two instances in which Saddam will give terrorists WMD. First, if Saddam believes there is deniability — that the weapons won’t be traceable to him — he will give terrorists chemical or biological weapons. Second, even if they were traceable to him, Saddam would share those weapons if he believed that the retaliation against Iraq will not be sufficient to remove him from power. This is the lesson of the Clinton years that our enemies — including Saddam – have not yet forgotten. So far, it has cost us 9-11. The bill will go higher.
Dr. Hamza was more encouraging about nukes. He told me that Saddam almost certainly wouldn’t share nuclear weapons because of his own obsessive desire for their power. Dr. Hamza said that Saddam’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is based on their deterrent effect. The next time he takes Kuwait, will we be so anxious to kick him out if he can respond with nukes? Maybe not. Saddam’s ambitions to rule Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are not dormant. He still wants to reign over a pan-Arab empire ranging from Morocco, across Saudi Arabia, and through Iraq. That’s why his nuclear program will never be surrendered or shared.
Ambassador Butler testified that when the U.N. inspections ended in 1998, Saddam’s nuclear weapons program was judged to be about two years from building a nuclear weapon. That was four years ago. The nuclear program is almost a sure bet to succeed by 2005. Saddam’s biowar program has already succeeded and is the most immediate threat. Several witnesses in the Wednesday hearing said that Iraq has weaponized anthrax and botulin toxin. Those are toys compared to smallpox. According to another expert, the Russians may have sold smallpox seed stock to Iraq in the 1990s. Saddam’s biowar team was experimenting with this disease which, though common in the Middle East, is virtually unknown in the west, and could be a devastating weapon.
In our history, we have never struck preemptively, but we must do so in Iraq and against any other terrorist target we identify. The terrorist is an enemy whose principal strategy is the targeting of civilians and non-military assets. We have not only the right but the obligation to defend ourselves by preempting threats such as those posed by Saddam and his ilk. If the president intends to stick with his decision to remove Saddam — and because of the threat, he must — he needs to end the internal squabbles and tell his team to get on with business. Time to lead, boss.