- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

It is deeply ironic that the bad rap on the Iraqi opposition has been that it is too divided to present a credible alternative to Saddam Hussein. Right now, Washington certainly is giving them a run for their money when it comes to disagreement.
If Saddam watches CNN, he must be having a good chuckle. That he is watching, of course, seems highly likely considering the famous scoop he gave to reporter Peter Arnett in the last Gulf War about the U.S. bombing of a chemical weapons factory, claimed by the Iraqis to be a powdered milk factory.
Here in Washington, skirmishes just short of full-blown punches have broken out over whether the United States should go to war with Iraq. What we need at this time is some firm direction from the president himself and we need it fast. So, one hopes this is the subject of the meeting today in Crawford, Texas, between President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
This is not to say that public debate in a democracy is not useful or appropriate. But in the absence of a clear White House position on as important a subject as this, the debate takes on a life of its own, filling the vacuum. The result is rejoicing among our foes and confusion among our friends.
And the president has to do somewhat better than the "Saddam is an evil man" line, which was promoted by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in London last week. Or Mr. Bush's own charge that Saddam is "thumbing his nose at the world." As infuriating as that nose-thumbing may be, we need more specifics. Some of us will not need a lot of convincing, but if Americans will be asked to put their lives on the line, they deserve more.
All sorts of people have gotten into the action. Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, in the Wall Street Journal took the Bush administration to task, causing everybody to wonder whether he was delivering a message from the president's father, the first President Bush. (Why the 41st president could not simply pick up the phone to deliver the message himself is a bit of a mystery to me.)
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger tried to come to the president's support, only to find that his views were being turned upside down on the front page of the New York Times. Generals Schwartzkopf and Clark have weighed in with warnings against "going it alone." And Republican leaders like Rep. Dick Armey and Sen. Chuck Hagel have expressed their grave reservations about the endeavor of ousting Saddam.
Now, there are very real concerns about what Iraq will do. What with all jaw-boning in Washington, we can hardly count on the element of surprise. Saddam has had more than ample time to consider what he will do in the case of an attack. A fair bet is that Israel will be on the receiving end of missiles loaded with the results of his chemical and biological weapons laboratories.
Another fair bet is that Americans could well see more acts of terrorism directed against us. As we face the anniversary of September 11, with all the haunting memories it brings, the prospect of more terrorism is scary.
The question is, however, does this outweigh the dangers of not acting? In the world in which we now find ourselves, a world with terrorists of hitherto unsuspected reach and sophistication, leaving a hostile dictator in place with burgeoning stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction could be much more dangerous.
Questions are now being asked whether the internecine Republican warfare or the European opposition will delay military action. This is hardly likely.
A massive amount of pre-positioning of military equipment and personnel has to happen. And when you come right down to it, weather conditions will probably have more to do with the timing than any amount of editorials no matter how well-written. The weather will be most favorable during the winter months, when rain fall is at its lowest.
What the president must do is remind everybody what happens when you leave ticking time bombs alone, a favorite strategy of the Europeans. Mr. Bush may end up sounding like Winston Churchill in the 1930s. Churchill warned day after day of Hitler's military build-up and air superiority, but history was on Churchill's side against Neville Chamberlain, the champion of appeasement. So, what's wrong with sounding like Churchill? Nothing.

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