Empire editorial: War cometh

Posted: Sunday, February 23, 2003

Soon enough, President Bush will give the order whereby the men and women of the U.S. armed forces and a few allies begin a war to overthrow a cruel tyrant and provide an opportunity for democracy to take root in an unlikely venue.

Saddam Hussein's dictatorship poses a continuous threat to his own people and to regional neighbors such as Kuwait, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

For the past 20 years, Saddam has proven himself to be the Middle East's primary mischief maker, exceeding Libya's Moammar Qadhafi, Palestine's Yasser Arafat, the ayatollahs of Iran, the clerics of Saudi Arabia and the enforcers of Israel's occupying armies - to view the situation through various sides of the prism.

Wishful thinking by U.N. members, the heartfelt reservations of a pope and other people for peace, the petulance of France and Germany, or a temporary rift within NATO will not stay Commander-in-Chief Bush from this appointed round.

The president's single-minded focus on Saddam has been apparent for months - even if less so when he campaigned for the presidency in 2000. It is no stretch to conclude the president intended to strike Iraq much sooner than the spring of 2003. In retrospect, a war against Iraq might have been fought and concluded by now were it not for the unprecedented acts of terrorism orchestrated by Osama bin-Laden in September 2001 that forced Mr. Bush to reschedule his appointment with Baghdad.

One of the most interesting ironies between 9/11 and the impending war with Iraq involves the assertion the terror attacks of 2001 occurred - succeeded - because the United States ignored all the warnings and failed to take care of business. Critics say the FBI, CIA, INS and the Bush and Clinton administrations should have enforced U.S. laws and done a better job of assessing intelligence data, i.e., they should have "connected the dots."

The irony is that Bush's current connecting of this set of dots has him in a classic damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario. Saddam has a conviction-in-waiting as a war criminal. He waged a decade-long war against Iran, he invaded Kuwait, he fired SCUD missiles at Israel, he tortured and gassed his own people, he failed to disarm, he lied about everything, and he's lived to gloat about it.

Saddam remains free to divert the income from his legal and illegal oil sales to the development and concealment of weapons of mass destruction. He remains free to plot his next attack and the use of those forbidden weapons. Hemmed in by the remnants of the allies' Gulf War forces, Saddam still can host shadowy terrorist-surrogates and finance their deadly activities.

Thus, Mr. Bush reasoned, the time has come to take care of this business.

But not without giving diplomacy one last opportunity to succeed. And not without giving Saddam one last chance to disarm.

Realists knew Saddam was not going to disarm.

Therefore, war initiated by this president against this tyrant has become inevitable.

There is seldom a good time for war. Afghanistan has not been stabilized sufficiently. Bin-Laden still taunts the United States from some safehouse that could be anywhere from Pakistan to the Philippines to Indonesia to Yemen, Iran - or Iraq. The U.S. economy is going the wrong direction and requires more attention and more realistic solutions than the president so far has provided.

Still, Iraq tops the president's list of things to do.

Although the war is likely to be short, American lives are certain to be lost. Terrorists are equally certain to retaliate. Take note: Those terrorists are determined to strike regardless. Sparing Saddam will not spare us the madness of terrorists.

Arguments against war persist. There are other options. None has worked since the end of the Gulf War, however. Saddam flaunts his staying power. The U.S. president is sticking with the war option. As the months have counted down to days and possibly hours for war, the nation has had a lot of time to consider what's ahead. The verdict among the people is a split decision between war and peace. The country is less divided than it was about Vietnam yet not as united as it was on the eve of the Gulf War.

Mr. Bush says the world will be a better, safer place in the aftermath of Saddam's removal.

We are about to find out.

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