- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 7, 2002

America's success in its campaign to disarm, if not remove, Saddam Hussein and win the war against Osama bin Laden and terror is endangered.
At present, the greater political enemy for the president and his presidency is different from the larger enemy facing the nation. Until this "reversal of enemies" is fixed, both campaigns are at grave risk.
Saddam and not bin Laden is the greater political enemy for the White House for a simple reason. Having first vowed to change the regime in Baghdad, the president now has accommodated to disarming Saddam through the peaceful means of U.N. inspections.
Inspections are a double-edged sword. Suppose inspectors fail to find convincing evidence of Iraqi violations of U.N. resolutions forbidding weapons of mass destruction. And if inspectors do find evidence and Iraq promises to disarm, suppose long-term guarantees can be found that prevent Saddam from future pursuit of these weapons. What does the administration do?
All this means that, despite Mr. Bush's powerful rhetoric demanding regime change, Saddam could manage to remain in power. If that happened, the presidential campaign for '04 could be reminiscent of 1992 and his father's defeat, in some measure due to the principled but damaging reversal on "no new taxes." This time, the opposition cry will be "read my lips, no more Saddam."
Meanwhile, the greater enemies to the nation if physical danger is the metric bin Laden, al Qaeda and extremism will benefit. The flaw is not, as some critics argue, dealing with two wars at once. The United States in concert with its partners and friends has more than enough "stuff" to take on Saddam and Osama simultaneously. The problem is that Saddam holds the credibility of the White House at risk, whether or not he has these weapons, and al Qaeda regenerates its strength.
What must be done to avoid this trap? First, regarding Iraq, the White House needs to plan beyond full-scale war particularly biting the bullet should, in the most unlikely event, Iraq actually have disposed (of the bulk) of its weapons, particularly nuclear, and the U.N. inspectors legitimately cannot prove the opposite case.
A long-term containment strategy, including the possibility of intrusive, unannounced inspections continuing for years if needed, must then be developed. An Iraqi "yes" should not automatically be met with war.
If the White House cannot take yes for an answer or if the absence of evidence by the inspectors becomes the casus belli for the reason that only after occupation of Iraq will Saddam's WMD be found, there will be war and a regime change. But what will that mean for Osama and the war on terror?
The debate in the White House between the so-called hawks and doves revolves in large measure on this question. The advocates of a military invasion of Iraq see it as "one stop shopping," in essence cleaning up a multitude of sins in one fell swoop. In this view, the political effects on Iran and Saudi Arabia will be salutary with further positive impact on the war against terror and possibly even in redressing the Arab-Israeli conflict.
On the other hand, a military assault will empower and embolden bin Laden's responses as "infidels" occupy, not temporarily rent, an Arab and Muslim land. The most recent "Letter to the American People," published in Britain last week and attributed to bin Laden, suggests the passion and rationale that would follow an invasion to rally the Islamic world in a "jihad" against the United States. For those who immediately dismiss such literature as "garbage," with all respect to Tom Paine and V.I. Lenin, their pamphlets were often regarded in like ways. Let us hope those revolutions will not be joined by another.
During World War II, the U.S. fought two wars in the Pacific and the Atlantic. The strategy was to win first in Europe and hold in Asia. A variant of that applies today. Priority must be on the greater threat to the nation the war on terror. While that war will not be as demanding in terms of forces and resources, the political costs from ensuring that the new Homeland Security Department actually improves security to preventing relations with friends such as Saudi Arabia and other states in the region from deteriorating will be high.
As far as Iraq, patience is a virtue. Saddam must be given enough rope to hang himself. In other words, a "holding" strategy makes sense provided there is no question that, if and when needed, the United States will use whatever means necessary to enforce the U.N. resolutions. By following this strategy, this reversal of enemies can be resolved, the nation fully protected and the more important war against terror won on our terms.

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