- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

Are we going rid the world of Saddam Hussein or will he, like Fidel Castro, remain a thorn in our side for decades to come?

The Bush administration's heated internal squabbles have placed President Bush's vow to topple Saddam in doubt. Since the Afghan campaign, the president's vow placed Iraq at the top of our target list. But the administration's split between the containment crowd who argue that Saddam poses no imminent threat and the advocates of military action leaves America and our allies in doubt. The containment crowd has had their argument bolstered by an unprecedented series of leaks by Pentagon malcontents, some of whom oppose particular war plans, and some who oppose any military action at all. Diplomatic scoldings from King Abdullah of Jordan and others signal more than the usual opposition from our "allies" in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The president's failure to resolve the internal debate has left a vacuum that Congress is rushing to fill. This week's Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the Iraqi threat were more than just another dance at the Naysayers' Ball.

The hearings posed three questions: First, what threat does Iraq pose, and how immediate is the danger? Second, what are the options to deal with the threat? Third, what are our responsibilities after we remove Saddam? It's pretty clear that the senators are not at all sold on the idea that Saddam needs to be removed in the foreseeable future, or that diplomacy can't succeed in containing the threat. Typical was Sen. Richard Lugar's statements comparing the diplomatic preparation of 1990-91 with the current lack of "diplomatic spadework." Many senators apparently believe that we shouldn't act without the same kind of international support we had in 1991, when the world declared Saddam an outlaw for invading Kuwait. They clearly don't believe the president's descriptions of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs provide sufficient reason to take military action.

Sen. John Kerry wondered aloud why we couldn't co-exist peacefully with Iraq as we did for 50 years with the Soviet Union. The answer is in what one panel of experts called "the pathology of Saddam Hussein." Ambassador Richard Butler, former head of UNSCOM the United Nations weapons inspection agency took issue with Iraqi denials of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. Mr. Butler said that now, and when the inspectors were in Iraq that the U.N. and " … everyone has been lied to." The reason for the lies is what he called "Saddam's cataclysmic mentality." Mr. Butler wondered aloud at Saddam's continued hot-pursuit of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Especially after September 11, Mr. Butler said, Saddam must know that any use of weapons of mass destruction would result in his destruction. But, he said, "Saddam exhibits no sign of such intelligent judgment."

Mr. Butler testified that he knew of no evidence that Saddam had shared weapons of mass destruction with terrorists, and doubted he would in the future. Mr. Butler's testimony on that point seems to contradict U.S. strategists' expectations that Saddam will share weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, with terrorists whenever he thinks it will further his goal of expanding his power. There was little said at the hearings to oppose Mr. Butler's conclusion. But congressional hearings sometimes don't give those who have the best judgment a chance to voice their own opinions.

Dr. Khidir Hamza worked on Saddam's nuclear weapons program for more than 20 years, and headed the program for much of that period. He was one of the first witnesses in the Senate hearings on Wednesday. While we were both waiting to appear on MSNBC's "Hardball" program Wednesday evening, we spoke about what went unsaid in the hearing.

This is a man who is no friend of Saddam but had close contact with him and his inner circle for two decades. His judgment of Saddam's intentions must be taken more seriously than opinions of people who haven't looked Saddam squarely in the eye. I asked Dr. Hamza if he agreed with Mr. Butler that Saddam would not give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. He disagreed strongly.

He said that Saddam is a risk-taker. Dr. Hamza believes that Saddam's pursuit of nuclear weapons is based on his belief that they will provide him a deterrent to American intervention in his plans. Saddam's ambitions to rule Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are not dormant, and his weapons of mass destruction threat is both real and immediate. Dr. Hamza thinks that there are at least two instances in which Saddam will give terrorists such weapons. First, if Saddam believes there is deniability that the weapons won't be traceable to him he will give terrorists chemical or biological weapons. Second, even if they are traceable to him, Saddam would share those weapons if he believes that the retaliation against Iraq will not be sufficient to remove him from power. This is the lesson of the Clinton era.

Mr. Butler testified that when the U.N. inspections ended in 1998, Saddam's nuclear weapons program was thought to be two years away from building a nuclear weapon. The passage of time means that Saddam's nuclear program must be on the verge of creating at least crude nuclear weapons. But his biowar program has already succeeded and is the most immediate threat. Several witnesses in the Wednesday hearing said that Iraq has weaponized anthrax and probably botulin toxin. Those are toys compared to smallpox. Dr. Hamza said there are many indications that Iraq had a smallpox weapon, but no real proof. He said that Iraq had experimented with camel pox as a weapon, which could be as devastating in the West where the disease is almost unknown. It is unclear if the mobile biowar labs Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld spoke of have the capability of genetic modification of camelpox, or if they have obtained smallpox seed stock from Russia.

That is the problem we face. We will never know precisely what Saddam has, or when he intends to use it. In our history, we have never struck pre-emptively, but we must do so now. We face an enemy whose principal strategy is the targeting of civilians and non-military assets. We should not wait to be attacked. We have not only the right but the obligation to defend ourselves by pre-empting threats such as those posed by Saddam and his ilk. If the president intends to stick with his decision to remove Saddam and in light of the threat, he must he needs to end the internal squabbles and tell his team to do the job.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.

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