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Iraq Redux

As we said here last week, the Bush Administration seems to be making its case for a Phase II military effort against Iraq. Indeed, at a Rose Garden ceremony this past Monday for two recently released aid workers in Afghanistan who had been held captive by the Taliban, President Bush was asked what message he had for Iraq. He said as follows:

Well, my message is that if you harbor a terrorist, you're a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist, you are a terrorist. If you develop weapons of mass destruction that you want to [use to] terrorize the world, you'll be held accountable.

Plainly, the President continues to recognize that September 11 marked a dramatic transformation in world affairs. The horrific events that occurred on that day underscored that the challenges our Nation and the Western world face are very different than those we had confronted in the past. For the first time, we came face to face with the reality that terrorist cells can inflict the kind of catastrophic damage that was thought to lie only in the province of governments. No longer could we think that the resources to inflict mass destruction could only be possessed by countries. In World War II, we settled the problems of Germany and Japan and since World War II, we proved more than able to contain the likes of the Soviet Union/Russia and China. Now we must address miscreants with enough funds to accumulate biological and chemical ? and perhaps, even nuclear weapons ? hiding in caves or operating clandestinely.

So, viewing the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as requiring the elimination of the direct perpetrators is ludicrous. There is a network out there across the globe that has figured out how to penetrate our defenses. And it is a network that cannot function without the hospitality and support of state sponsors. As the President has said, these states must voluntarily “cough the terrorists up” or be forced to do so. Afghanistan was targeted since it harbored Osama bin Laden and headquarters of the Al Qaida. Similarly, as a known producer of these weapons and as a notorious patron of terrorists, Iraq is an obvious target.

But there are some who are counseling against any military action against Iraq. And their reasons show that they are oblivious to the real significance of Sept. 11. An editorial in the November 27th issue of the New York Times, “The Wrong Time To Fight Iraq,” is the clearest statement to date of this thinking:

…The Bush Administration would make a serious mistake by moving to wage war in Iraq.

One reason is that America's mission in Afghanistan is far from accomplished. Osama bin Laden and many top aides remain at large, Taliban fighters still hold out in the countryside and a few urban redoubts, and the creation of a stable post-Taliban government has barely begun. Until these basic objectives are achieved, Afghanistan will remain a potential base for international terrorism.

Finishing the job in Afghanistan requires holding together the international coalition Washington has skillfully assembled. War in Iraq at this juncture would almost certainly shatter that coalition. While some Arab leaders have no love for Mr. Hussein, public opinion in the Arab world would not allow them to support American military action against him, at least in the absence of clear evidence linking Baghdad to the events of Sept. 11 or subsequent bioterrorism….

War in Iraq would also undermine whatever possibility now exists for damping violence between Israelis and Palestinians and restarting efforts toward a lasting peace. Progress in the new peace initiative announced by Secretary of State Colin Powell last week might make it easier to ratchet up the pressure on Baghdad at a later date. Moving against Iraq now would hobble America's power as a Mideast peacemaker.

Diplomacy aside, the military challenges of war in Iraq are far more formidable than anything yet seen in Afghanistan. Mr. Hussein can count on the loyalty of a large army, equipped with more modern and lethal weapons than the Taliban ever had…. In another crucial difference, the United States would be operating without any effective local allies like the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan….

Without ground fighters, American air power cannot prevail. The only military option with any realistic promise of success would be sending in an overwhelmingly large American ground force…. Unlike the situation prior to the Persian Gulf war, Washington could not count on the use of staging bases in Saudi Arabia….

What Washington should do now is intensify its efforts to build up a more serious internal Iraqi opposition…. Meanwhile, Washington should put maximum diplomatic and military pressure on Baghdad. It can use its improved ties with Russia to enact more sustainable United Nations economic sanctions and to press for an early resumption of international weapons inspections….

Three months ago, these sort of concerns might have resonated, although we are not sure that they should have even then. But not after Sept. 11. Saddam Hussein has spent years thwarting inspections in order to shield his biological and chemical weapons manufacturing. And Iraq has long been on the United States list of state sponsors of terror. We now have the momentum and the national will to do what has to be done. To be sure, there will be difficulties along the way. But their anticipation should not be allowed to stop us from doing what has to be done. We can deal with challenges as they arise.

We dare not lose sight of the fact that if we do not thoroughly address terrorists cells around the world as the cancer-like predators they are, the bin Ladens will be able to do what the Nazis, Japanese warlords and Communists were unable to accomplish.

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