- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Most Americans have clear in their minds the face of the enemy. Osama bin Laden, with his turban, long beard and empty eyes, has crystallized in our imagination as the main perpetrator of America's suffering. Secretary of State Colin Powell said over the weekend that the United States is currently preparing a document that will demonstrate bin Laden's clear connection to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

But given terrorism's shadowy network, the hijackers may have also had a state sponsor. And on this point, attention turns to Iraq. Many experts believe that evidence linking Saddam Hussein and the recent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon hasn't been established, but that Saddam would certainly have motives for striking against the United States. Within the Bush administration, one school of thinking holds that if we got rid of Saddam, we would get rid of a major sponsor of terrorist groups big and small. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, No. 3 in the Pentagon, has been a major proponent of uprooting Saddam. In a Sept. 13 briefing, he called for "removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending the states who sponsor terrorism," according to the Weekly Standard. Not surprisingly, Mr. Powell, who has never indicated any regrets about not taking Saddam out last time he had the chance, has shown no urge to go along. Indeed, if you listened to Mr. Powell on Sunday, he still spoke of containing Saddam certainly not of getting rid of him. The administration even seems inclined to give Afghanistan's Taliban a pass if only they would cough up bin Laden. To define U.S. goals so narrowly in the war against terrorism would be a serious mistake.

Now, eliminating Saddam would be a great favor to the world, no doubt about that. As has often been stated on this page, it ought to be a long-term goal of the United States. Dealing with the odious Taliban, as the base of support for bin Laden, should be a top priority for now, but a regime change in Iraq should also be pursued. It ought not be a reflexive response to the Sept. 11 attack, but the administration's longer-term and well-strategized effort to counter terrorism and a foreign policy goal that is in many wider respects in America's interests.

This moment presents an opportunity for the United States to draw on the sympathy that the recent terrorist attacks have elicited for America in the Middle East in order to mount an effort to aid the Iraqi opposition in unseating Saddam. A real plan to unseat Saddam would have wide support, particularly if we have shown our seriousness elsewhere, such as in our dealings with the Taliban. Toppling Saddam from power in Iraq will eliminate a source of financing and strategic support for international terrorists. Finally, unseating Saddam will allow the United States to drop its sanctions on Iraq, which has long been a source of contention with countries in the region.

Ousting Saddam Hussein is in America's strategic, geopolitical and humanitarian interests. Although it is bin Laden who looms large in America's search for justice right now, we should not forget our longer-term interests in Iraq.

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