- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

The Bush Doctrine, though still a work in progress, will certainly be recorded as one that changed America's course in history. Just as the Monroe Doctrine set out boundaries for the presence of European powers in the Americas, the Bush Doctrine sets out the boundaries that terrorists and the nations that support them cannot cross. The difficulty for President Bush, and for us, is that at the moment we probably do not have the capability to carry it out.

From the last dustup with the Brits in 1812 to the attacks of September 11, America has generally forsworn striking at any nation that had not attacked us first. But war, and the means by which it is fought, have changed so drastically that the Bush Doctrine now makes equally dramatic changes to our basic strategy. Accusing someone of planning a "pre-emptive strike" was a Cold War obscene insult, because it was the label for unprovoked use of nuclear weapons. Now, pre-emptive action not pre-emptive nuclear attack is an essential means to deal with threats that are not deterred by our strengths, even the possibility of nuclear counterattack. Until the war on the Taliban began last October, terrorists including terrorist nations had reason to doubt we would act decisively even after an attack. Now Mr. Bush has wisely changed the equation.

Iraq, Iran and North Korea Mr. Bush's "axis of evil" know we have them in our sights. Each is a formidable adversary. If anything is clear to them as well as us we lack the forces to deal with them all at once. It will have to be one at a time. Now that the Afghanistan campaign is almost over, it is reasonable to ask, what's next? There is no clear answer. The decision will have to be based on two factors: How urgent is their threat to us, and what are we capable of doing about it?

As much as Iran and Iraq may be alike, North Korea is part of a very different equation. It is not a home for Islamicist terror, but it is supplying terrorist nations with ballistic missiles and other weapons that make them so much greater a threat. Russia, China and Japan all will influence any war with North Korea, which both raises the stakes and complicates the problem. There may be other ways to stanch the flow of North Korean weapons. Hugely dangerous now, it may like the Soviet Union die of its own inadequacies. We can try to wait them out.

Iran and Iraq seem to be competing with each other to be next target. Iran is aiding and sheltering fugitive al Qaeda and Taliban troops and leaders. They train, arm and finance terrorists, including Hamas and others. If the Taliban and al Qaeda are able to resume operations because of Iran's help, we may have to pay the butcher's bill for Afghanistan a second time. Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs have gone forward since 1998 without U.N. inspection. Iraq certainly has biological weapons such as anthrax and probably smallpox and chemical weapons, probably including VX gas, one of the world's most deadly substances. Saddam Hussein's ballistic missiles supplied by North Korea can deliver these weapons against our troops in the region, or against Israel. Talk of reviving inspections in Iraq are only that. Trying to reimpose inspections will not do anything other than allow Iraq more time to further develop and deploy these weapons.

The only sensible goal is to overthrow Saddam's regime. To do this, we would have to mount an operation roughly equivalent to Desert Storm. In 1991, using airbases and ports in Saudi Arabia, we deployed about 500,000 troops, most of our air forces and forces from a dozen allies. We don't have the ability to do that now. Thanks to Bill Clinton's defense "build-down," we have too few ships and aircraft, too little sealift and airlift to mount such an operation. None of our allies are yet marching alongside, and the Saudis won't allow us to use the bases there. Without our allies, and without Saudi bases, we need to create other options to successfully take on Saddam.

Complicating the Iraq problem are Turkey and Israel. Turkey has a legitimate interest in the Kurdish tribes in northern Iraq because their unrest threatens Turkey as well as Iraq. Any operation against Saddam will need Turkish bases and possibly troops. In 1991, only the most severe arm-twisting prevented the Israelis from counterattacking when Saddam launched missiles at them, and Ariel Sharon wasn't their leader then. Sources tell me the Israelis have operational plans to pre-empt a missile attack which this time would deliver biological or chemical weapons by disabling Iraqi missiles with an electromagnetic pulse produced by an air burst of a nuclear weapon. If Saddam threatens Israel, and Israel launches even a small tactical nuclear weapon, all bets are off, everywhere. Our strategy must include enough stealth and surprise to preclude the threat before the Israelis perceive they need to attack.

Because of its actions in Afghanistan, and its strategic location next to Iraq, Iran should be target No. 1. Iran is almost twice the size of Afghanistan, and is very similar in geography. Its military fought a 10-year war against Saddam, and endured poison-gas attacks. Their training and command structure give them much greater capability than the Taliban. We will have to put significant forces on the ground and mount an air campaign as thorough and relentless as we waged in Afghanistan. Air power will not do the job alone.

Boots in the mud, logistics to support them and naval forces will all come into play. Iran has more than 50 coastal combatants that can threaten our Navy in a "brown water" fight. Their air forces are big enough to be a legitimate threat. If we can operate from Tajikistan and Turkey like we operated against Iraq from Saudi Arabia, it can be done. If Iran can be won, so can Iraq. Operating from Iranian bases, America and its allies can render Saudi Arabia irrelevant to the coming war on Iraq.

Jed Babbin is a former deputy undersecretary of defense in the prior Bush administration.

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