- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2001

President George W. Bush continues to fulfill his campaign promises. He made it clear in a debate with former Vice President Al Gore that if Saddam Hussein violated the sanctions imposed upon him by the 1991coalition, "We'll take him out." Colin Powell's first trip to the Middle East as secretary of state intended to be fact-finding, getting to know people and their problems, generally relating American concerns in the Middle East will have an added dimension as he deals with Middle Eastern terrorists.

The action taken against Iraq last week is linked with America's regional policy in the Middle East. Although the national security advisers and the State Department have not as yet formulated a comprehensive policy toward Iraq, President Bush found it imperative to end the serious Iraqi violations of the No Fly Zone over the last two months. The demand for an American strike came from the ground, led by U.S. and British air forces, whose aircraft have been endangered by Iraq's shooting of surface-to-air missiles into the No Fly Zone.

According to a Pentagon spokesman, Saddam has used these missiles on 14 occasions during the past six weeks. Although it could appear to be a continuation of the routine Clinton defense of the No Fly Zone, the targets that American and British airplanes hit were outside the Zone. This is an end to Bill Clinton's hands-off policy toward Saddam, and the beginning of Mr. Bush's hands-on policy.

The new administration is facing much more serious circumstances than Mr. Clinton's did in 1992, when the anti-Saddam war coalition of Americans, Europeans and Middle Easterners was still intact. Saddam was still in the box. Mr. Clinton's appeasement of Saddam, his pusillanimous reaction to Saddam's ouster of UNSCOM from Iraq and refusal to permit the new milder arms control commission into Baghdad, French and Russian greed for Saddam's oil and money, and the mischievous Chinese who will find any opportunity to create obstacles for American strategy, have all succeeded in getting Saddam out of the box.

The cunning Saddam has used oil revenues set up for food to buy weapons from Russia, China, Germany and North Korea. The phony Clinton-Kofi Annan oil-for-food policy is only adding to Saddam's arsenal at the expense of Iraqi children that Saddam uses as a public-relations weapon against the United States. Addressing Saddam's buildup of weapons of mass destruction after his ouster of UNSCOM inspectors is a first priority of the Bush administration.

The collapse of the Gulf war alliance has created an obstacle to the re-establishment of a serious arms control policy. Certainly a consistent and continuous bombing of Saddam beyond the No Fly Zone would demonstrate American resolve to bring an end to his regime, as Mr. Powell has reiterated several times. I have great doubts that the 1991Gulf coalition can be resurrected.

The new administration's most promising option for putting Saddam back into the box, in addition to bombing, is to support the Iraq National Committee (INC) which is composed of the anti-Saddam dissidents. Unlike the Clinton administration that paid only lip service to the INC, Vice President Richard Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, will upgrade the American political, economic, and military support of the opposition. This time Saddam Hussein, who may lose assets to the opposition, will take the American administration more seriously. A special task force group composed of Pentagon, State Department and CIA officials will be established to supervise the INC and its activities. This time, unlike former President George Bush's administration in 1991, the United States will not turn its back to the opposition.

The war against Saddam Hussein is part of this administration's determination to raise the level and consciousness of the American people to the need of bringing an end to terrorism, especially Islamic radical terrorism that moves from Pakistan in the east to the Middle East and back. Saddam Hussein and the Syrians have started a preliminary military buildup for eventual elimination of Israel. Saddam has already offered money and resources to any Arab military force willing to join in the support of Palestinian violence in a crusade against Israel, thus igniting the Middle East.

Mr. Powell must persuade America's Middle Eastern friends and moderate leaders to help bring an end to Palestinian violence, since Middle East turbulence is not in the interest of fragile moderate Arab regimes. President Bush and Secretary Powell will not have the chance to let the Middle East factions settle disputes among themselves. Radical forces in the Middle East will do their utmost to harm American interests. Time is of the essence for bringing an end to radical terrorism in the Middle East, beginning with Saddam Hussein.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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