- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2002

President George W. Bush has indisputably proven himself a world-class leader. For proof, one need look no further than the extraordinary progress he has made since Labor Day in moving the nation and the world on the question of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Today, Mr. Bush is poised to receive overwhelming, bipartisan congressional approval for whatever actions he deems necessary to deal with Saddam. Such an accomplishment seemed unimaginable back in August when the Bush administration seemed adrift as it was buffeted daily by Republican and Democratic critics. Last night, the president undertook to consolidate his base of support further by taking his case to the American people via a highly publicized speech in Cincinnati.

At this critical juncture, however, Mr. Bush is clearly being subjected to a potentially irresistible temptation: Abandon his commitment to regime change in order to translate his mandate from Congress into support from the "international community." This would, he is being told, be expressed in a more-or-less satisfactory new U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing intrusive inspections finally to "disarm" Iraq.

Like most seductive propositions, this one would be so easy to agree to yet so problematic once that has been done. For one thing, Mr. Bush may or may not get the Russians, Chinese and French (who, together with Great Britain and the United States wield vetoes in the Security Council) to go along with a new resolution to his liking. Certainly, they are more likely to do so if the toppling of their client, Saddam Hussein, is off the table.

But even then, the past track record of such nations suggests that they will be working to help Saddam undermine the new regime, and get away with it, before the new resolution's ink is dry.

While "W" is clearly aware of this danger, he is probably being told by Secretary of State Colin Powell that a U.N. agreement can be achieved if only the president will permit him to finesse the regime change bit. In fact, Mr. Powell floated this as a trial balloon last week, suggesting that Saddam could stay in power if only he went along this time with being disarmed.

You can just hear the pitch to Mr. Bush: Security Council backing would give political cover to Saudi Arabia and other fair-weather friends, making possible the sort of grand coalition Mr. Bush's father enjoyed at the time of Operation Desert Storm. It will be the world against Saddam, redux.

And nattering left-wing congressional Democrats and maybe even Al Gore who say they are for ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction but are leery of trying to topple the man who has amassed them, would be silenced, if not actually brought on board.

It may even be that Mr. Powell is telling President Bush 43 what he, among others, told his father 11 years ago: We do not have to worry about actually toppling Saddam; his hold on power will be mortally affected by the embarrassment he will suffer at U.N. hands. This time it will come in the form of intrusive inspectors, perhaps backed by armed multinational units with a mandate to go "anywhere, anytime."

George W. Bush must not fall into the same trap that wrested defeat from the jaws of his father's victory over Saddam in 1991. Unless the U.N. approves the one outcome that has any hope of actually disarming Iraq regime change in Baghdad a new inspections mandate will actually impede termination of Saddam's WMD programs. Inspectors will, at best, buy the Iraqi despot more time to pursue his megalomaniacal agenda; at worst, they will become hostages and "human shields" against future U.S.-led military action. The latter danger may be alleviated by, as some are proposing, accompanying the inspectors with up to 50,000 heavily armed troops. If such units wind up having to fight, however, they and their charges may be badly bloodied before they can be reinforced or extracted, a la "Blackhawk Down."

Even in that event, some may argue as they did in 1991 that the United States must refrain from removing Saddam Hussein from power since it has no U.N. mandate to do so. Absent such a mandate, we would be warned once again that the grand coalition would fall apart and the Arab "street" would rise up against so-called "moderate" governments in the region. We would be blamed for "aggression," a crime the new International Criminal Court may be wont to try to prosecute.

There is another temptation to which Mr. Bush is clearly being subjected: We need not worry about the time-consuming, potentially costly and politically challenging business of liberating Iraq if Saddam is assassinated or exiled by one of his cronies. Unfortunately, replacing the devil we know with what is likely to be "Saddam Lite" will not ensure that the weapons program pursued by the ruling clique actually is terminated.

More importantly, either of these temptations will forfeit the one thing that holds promise of ending the threat Iraq poses to its neighbors and the world: The prospect of freeing an Arab nation from tyranny.

By sticking to real regime change as his central war aim, President Bush may have to reject the seductive promises of help, support and solidarity from unreliable quarters at home and abroad. But if he can bring about the genuine liberation of the Iraqi people, he will not only have given peace the best chance it may ever have in that region. He might also succeed in bringing the "blessings of liberty" to an Arab world that has never known them and that will be transformed by them, as have others who have been so blessed.

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