- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Is it just coincidence that in the last few weeks, the nation's leading news outlets have reported leaked stories relating to nuclear weapons? First was the story of the shadow government, kept in rural bunkers against the contingency that Washington might be wiped out. Then came The Washington Post story of nuclear sensors being placed on I-95, with Delta Force-type teams training to intercept and defuse concealed nuclear devices.

Next came Time magazine's cover story that our government feared (falsely, it turned out) that there was a nuclear bomb placed in New York City. Finally, last weekend, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times reported stories that the Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review had been rewritten to include Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Libya as potential nuclear targets (as well as Pakistan in case of a coup).

That leaked story included the finding that low-yield nuclear devices which produce less fall out were needed to destroy underground complexes. Each of these stories were promptly confirmed by our government, at varying levels of detail.

Add this other fact. A journalist I know told me that he has been researching for the last six months a story for a major national magazine that focuses on how our government would go about searching for a dirty nuclear bomb in an urban area. For five months, the relevant government officials and technicians virtually stonewalled him. Then, in late January they were suddenly remarkably forthcoming with details, including some operational details which give the story more credibility and bite.

While one can't know for sure, these developments are suggestive of a government-organized series of leaks intended to prepare the public for dramatic military activity. The timing of these probably authorized leaks also coincided with a lull in fighting in Afghanistan and the beginning of some domestic and much foreign criticism of the president's vigorous war plans.

The latest leak of changed nuclear strategy, while it has drawn worried comments from Europe and Russia, also would appear to be a clever reapplication of the Cold War nuclear deterrent strategy, this time targeted on likely state sponsors of terrorism. Could it even be a possible coup motivator in Iraq?

It is wise for the government to be preparing the country, both psychologically and factually, for the specter of these appalling contingencies. Curiously, it is the Washington political and journalistic class, rather than the general public, which needs the instruction. According to every national poll, about 80 percent or more of the public endorse every aspect of the president's war-fighting, while here in Washington I would estimate that at least half of the journalists and politicians either publicly or privately doubt the necessity of prompt war with Iraq.

But for the measurable possibility of nuclear (or biological or chemical) mass slaughter here on our native soil, the Iraqi venture would border on madness. Such a war runs the serious risk of destabilizing most of the Arab and Muslim world. It could cause Middle East oil to be removed from the world market for an indefinite period (resulting in a severe recession lasting a year or two).

It essentially plays into Osama bin Laden's and al Qaeda's grand strategy of inducing America to over-react to September 11 and thereby radicalize and energize world-wide Islam. Even when successful, such an Iraqi war may possibly bring on the dreaded war of civilizations, with repercussions that cannot even be calculated.

Almost inevitably, we will start that war with no certainty that we have a viable alternative government to replace Saddams'. We may be stuck with a hostile occupation and half-a-continent of furious Muslims.

And yet, if there is even a 5 percent or 10 percent chance that Saddam will develop and transfer to terrorists a weapon of mass destruction that can be used to incinerate an American multitude, such a war would be morally mandatory for the United States.

In fact, the terrorists are the lesser of the threats. Only advanced industrial countries are capable of producing nuclear devices. Terrorists are merely the eager delivery system. Our greatest strategic danger is those hostile countries that can produce and provide the nukes: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. (Add in Syria and Libya for advanced biological and chemical weapons.)

Whether we think these nations have the weapons now or in five years is inconsequential. The point is to act before they and their terrorist partners can. The point is to act while we have the will of a united people not wait a few years until that unity and will may have dissipated.

We can see on our president's face and hear from his voice that he has gazed into the nuclear night. It is against that horror that he is resolute to protect us at the risk of substantial, but lesser, harms and dangers. No American president not even Lincoln has faced such a shocking and grave decision.

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