- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Prior to two days of congressional hearings on Iraq last week, President Bush had painted himself into a rhetorical corner labeled Saddam=Hitler. Not going to war against Iraq would be tantamount to a remake of Neville Chamberlain's "Peace-in-Our-Time" appeasement follies at Munich in 1938. The hearings on both the nature of the Iraqi threat and the feasibility of a U.S. invasion to force Iraqi "regime change" gave Mr. Bush a chance to leap over the wet paint and find a dry spot for further reflection.

Some of the pre-hearings assumptions from talking heads that have never served in the military, let alone dodged bullets and grenades in combat, have already been punctured. A U.S. invasion either the one-airborne division, "inside out" strategy of investing Baghdad and leaving the rest of Iraq to collapse of its own volition, or the multiple-division, three-pronged invasion of Iraq from north, south and west would not be a "cakewalk."

Various leaks and transparent attempts at strategic deception and disinformation have ranged from a U.S. expeditionary corps of 10,000 special forces troops, or 50,000 troops, to even a quarter of a million soldiers. Unfazed, the Iraqi dictator has continued to play the role of the victim for the benefit of Arab and worldwide Muslim eyes glued to Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite TV channel that invariably gives the benefit of the doubt to U.S. enemies. When the United States finally strikes, no one should be surprised if Saddam Hussein unleashes "sleeper cells" against U.S. interests in various parts of the world, including the United States. That's when it won't be too hard to discern a de facto alliance between Iraq and al Qaida's global network of pyrotechnicians.

Another myth deflated was the belief in the let's-zap-Saddam-now camp that nothing succeeds like American success in the Arab world. These Mideast novices evidently overlooked the fact that Arabs have an enormous propensity to cut off their nose to spite their face. In the Six-Day War in 1967, the Israelis inflicted a humiliating defeat on Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, destroying some 450 warplanes on the ground and decimating his forces. A few days later, Nasser was acclaimed as a hero at an Arab summit meeting in Khartoum, Sudan.

Plans for a post-Saddam, democratic Iraq will also have to be shelved if the country is to remain a unitary state. Given its ethnic makeup the Kurds in the north, the Shias in the south and minority Sunni Muslims in the middle an Iraqi "Karzai" could not hold Iraq together in one piece.

The realization has also sunk in since the hearings that the United States must be prepared to shoulder the entire cost of the operation. Afghanistan has already cost $20 billion and Iraq would add another $50 billion. That's just for starters. Next would come nation-building a la post-World War II Germany and Japan. That could last at least 10 years. Add another $50 billion to $100 billion.

Yet another rude awakening is the hitherto unnoticed nasty geopolitical fact that the United States would be strictly alone. What about Britain? you ask. Wasn't that in the bag? Well, Prime Minister Tony Blair is still backing George W. Bush, but the Labor Party is no longer backing Mr. Blair.

The British media has been in full cry against a U.S. invasion of Iraq for months. Armed Forces chief Adm. Sir Michael Boyce publicly voiced dissent (which earned him retirement a little earlier than planned). Benighted retired British ambassadors with Mideastern experience and bemedaled retired British generals and admirals have advised against it, both in op-ed articles and on TV talk shows.

Adding insults to injury, the Blair government had to earmark $5.5 billion for improving the army's equipment after a watchdog report released a long list of embarrassing problems that ranged from tanks that won't work in the desert to rifles that only work at night, and boots that melt in the heat.

A head count showed 60 to 70 members of Parliament voting against Mr. Blair and several Cabinet ministers resigning if he insisted on British forces joining the United States in an invasion of Iraq. For the left-wing Labor Party, another war against Iraq is simply a continuation of the Persian Gulf War that was a joint venture of the first President Bush and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher "don't go wobbly, George" to save the oil of the Gulf for the emirs, sheikhs and kings.

Mr. Blair is now casting his diplomatic net for a dilatory palliative that might bridge the gap between opponents and proponents of intervention in Iraq. The plan is to persuade U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan with a Security Council vote echoed by a General Assembly vote in late September/early October to make another trip to Baghdad to present Saddam Hussein with a non-negotiable demand that he comply with U.N. resolutions for unconditional see-anything-poke-anywhere inspections of the entire country.

With his weapons of mass destruction facilities scattered and buried deep inside mountains and under palaces, Saddam may just take a chance and agree, hoping to weaken Mr. Bush's support for unilateral military action. Mr. Annan, on the other hand, might just decline the mission in the expectation that Saddam would turn him down, as he has before.

Ranking Western diplomats in Washington do not believe Mr. Bush would go it alone against Saddam before the November elections. To do so might incur the risk of being seen to garner votes at the expense of American lives.

It is now incumbent on the Bush administration to make a plausible case after the August recess for pre-emptive military action against Iraq. After listening to Jordan's King Abdullah explain to him why a U.S. invasion of Iraq could dangerously destabilize the region, weaken world economies and infuriate Arab friends and neighbors of Iraq, Mr. Bush responded by explaining that Saddam "poisons his own people."

True, but so what? Stalin killed millions of his own people and he developed weapons of mass destruction. As did Mao. Several million have been savagely killed in Central Africa in recent years. Both India and Pakistan have weapons of mass destruction and a million armed men staring down each other along a 1,300-mile border.

The world now awaits a convincing case for invading Iraq beyond the well-known fact that Saddam has developed weapons of mass destruction.

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