- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2002

The current holiday foreign policy buzz around Washington paints a scary picture. Word is that as the United States moves its military power forward to force the permanent disarmament of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Iraq, al Qaeda and North Korea are forming an unholy trinity against their mutual superpower adversary.
Clearly, any war with Iraq is serious business. The consequences could enflame regional tensions and give al Qaeda further rationale for its insane quest. North Korea will gain ground to gloat and provoke the United States. But this buzz goes further.
To use the Hollywood analogy, this buzz regards these disparate and widely separate entities as collusive ingredients for empowering the "perfect storm" to demolish the United States. The physics are no secret. While the United States prepares for a war against Iraq astute observers assert is at least "70 percent" likely, other premeditated actions link the evil three in a dangerous synergy. North Korea has restarted its Yongbyon nuclear plant with the blatant threat that nuclear weapons production and possibly war will follow if the United States does not recommence shipment of fuel oil. Immediately, the media were querying whether the United States has the power to fight two simultaneous wars against Iraq and North Korea, diverting the Bush administration's attention.
Other "informed" sources reported that al Qaeda is planning imminent attacks possibly with smallpox or other horrible agents. Israel is considered a prime target along with the United States for attacks that could build into a tidal wave of terror and deflect American resources from any war in the Gulf. And Saddam Hussein continues to wage a diplomatic offensive to distance America from its friends in the United Nations and the region, a war he actually may be winning for the moment.
Clearly, if the consequences of this buzz weren't so serious, it would make a good movie. But, fortunately, this speculation is based neither in fact nor reality. Indeed, it is really nonsense. However, nonsense often sells.
Consider the current hype through the harsh lens of reality. First, North Korea does not wish to provoke a war either with the United States or South Korea, especially for the reason of shifting American attention from Iraq. A Pyrrhic victory in which Pyongyang falls and hundreds of thousands of Koreans and Americans are killed is not in anyone's interests, not even Kim Jong-il's, the North's supreme leader.
Although Mr. Kim is despised by President Bush because of his ruthless treatment of his people, that does not make him suicidal. North Korea can be dealt with short of war as our friends in the region and some in the administration argue. And, despite North Korea's most promiscuous tendencies in selling missiles and other weapons, notably to America's ally Pakistan, there are no links between it and al Qaeda no matter how hard the perfect storm buffs try to manufacture one.
No doubt al Qaeda wishes the worst for its enemies. Those enemies include secular Islamic states such as Iraq. Saddam may build many mosques and donate his own blood so the Koran can be copied using it. Still, al Qaeda considers Iraq a secular and not fundamentalist state. Far better arguments can be made that al Qaeda prefers Saddam gone than cooperating with the Ba'athist regime as a surrogate against the U.S. And the prospect of al Qaeda getting weapons of mass destruction from Baghdad is simply far-fetched. The Bush administration would like nothing better to make its case against Saddam than hard evidence of that link.
So this particular perfect storm is hardly a tempest in a teapot. However, the absence of one storm does not mean others are not on the horizon. If the United States is not careful or simply unlucky in future dealings with the profoundly difficult challenges in the part of the world properly identified as the "crescent of crisis," there will be huge trouble and danger. This region stretches from Israel in the west to the Bay of Bengal in the east, two bookends to a region supercharged by the explosive combination of oil, terror, religion, poverty and social and political inequality and made even more volatile by the presence of weapons of mass destruction.
The Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict continues to deteriorate. India and Pakistan, with conflict over Kashmir complicated by a strong vote for Islamic fundamentalism in the last Pakistani elections, remain at each other's throats, and with fingers not far from nuclear triggers.
These bookends are the breeding grounds for the "mother of all perfect storms" if they get of hand. It is the two bookends that could collapse. If they do, that storm will not be perfect. It will be a nightmare.

Harlan Ullman is a columnist for The Washington Times. His latest book is "Unfinished Business: Defusing the Dangers that Threaten America's Security."

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