There is growing evidence that now that success in Afghanistan is within reach, the President is serious about pursuing the war against terrorism to other venues. One senses an almost palpable effort to prepare the world community for the so-called Phase II. It will be recalled that Mr. Bush declared soon after September 11th that targeting Osama bin Laden and his Taliban protectors would be Phase I, and that neutralizing the terror network around the world would constitute Phase II. And it is fast emerging that Iraq will be the first step.
For several days, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has reportedly been telling almost everyone in sight that it would not be necessary to uncover a direct link between Saddam Hussein's regime and the September 11 attacks in order to trigger a military strike against Iraq.
This past Sunday, Dr. Condoleeza Rice, the President's National Security Adviser, pointedly said on NBC's Meet the Press:
“We do not need the events of September 11 to tell us that [Saddam Hussein] is a very dangerous man who is a threat to his own people, a threat to the region, and a threat to us…There could be only one reason that he has not wanted U.N. inspectors in Iraq, and that's so he can build weapons of mass destruction.”
Also on Sunday, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said that, “The war on terrorism neither begins or ends with Afghanistan” and said that Iraq, along with Somalia, Sudan and several South American countries harboring terrorist cells would be future targets.
On Monday, John R. Bolton, Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control told a Geneva conference on biological weapons that, “The United States strongly suspects that Iraq has taken advantage of three years of no U.N. inspections to improve all phases of its offensive biological weapons program. The existence of Iraq's program is beyond dispute.”
On the same day, USA Today reported that an unnamed Capitol Hill source told its reporter that Pentagon strategists are already looking at an array of military targets in Iraq, including barracks and headquarters of the elite Republican Guard.
The “odd man out” seems to be the State Department, which is adamantly opposed to taking the war to Iraq. This position is reportedly not out of doubt that Iraq poses a threat because of its stockpile of weapons of mass destruction or the will to use them, but of a fear that such action would infuriate Arab public opinion and fracture the U.S.-led alliance against al-Qa'eda. And this is really the rub.
September 11 marked a turning point in the development of mankind. It signalled that for all of our remarkable advances in technology and every facet of the human experience, the primitives among us have figured out a way to bring us down. The advent of unrestrained bandit religious fanaticism, with unlimited clandestine resources, cadres of suicide bombers and indispensable cooperating regimes have rendered obsolete the “balance of power” and “balance of terror” notions that have long been the mainstay of the defense of Western civilization.
President Bush was not engaging in hyperbole when he declared two months ago that life as we know it could not survive as long as the cancer of terror cells existed anywhere in the world. He has shown so far that he can be the historic leader for our times. But if he blinks, we are undone.