- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 12, 2002

Despite his patience, we are told President George W. Bush may soon decide what he will do to contain Iraq and Saddam Hussein's ambitions including a possible full-scale military invasion.

But why now?

Less than a year ago, the term "axis of evil" was not even a glimmer in the eyes of White House speechwriters. Mr. Bush's idea of "regime change" had applied to ending the eight-year rule of Clinton-Gore and the Democrats' control of the White House. "Pre-emptive attack" was an academic term relegated to graduate schools and military war colleges. No global war on terrorism had been declared.

The simple answer is September 11, 2001, and the deaths of more than 3,000 innocent victims. Those attacks doubtlessly seared into Mr. Bush's mind the extent of America's vulnerability to terror. The stakes were made more frightening by the prospect of terrorists gaining access to weapons of mass destruction. Something had to be done.

Three possibilities suggest why Saddam became the primary target. The first is the "vendetta." In this view, Bush 43 now has the pretext for completing his father's "unfinished business" of the Gulf war in 1991, namely ending Saddam Hussein's rule once and for all. Others in his administration, particularly Vice President Richard Cheney who was Bush 41's defense secretary then, are seen to have the same score to settle.

Second is "clear and present danger." In a global war against terror, Saddam's ambitions for acquiring nuclear weapons as well as possible ties with terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda can only be severed by force. Whether Saddam had covertly pursued both with greater vigor before September 11 or that the attacks focused intelligence more precisely to uncover new facts is not important. The hint of Saddam with nukes constitutes a casus belli. Delay would be foolhardy. Mr. Cheney's speeches last week drove those points home.

Third, is "one-stop shopping." In this interpretation, America's adversaries have the means, motive and access to attack the nation's homeland and will do so again. The sources of attack come from what former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski called the "crescent of crisis," that is the region bounded by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the west and the Indian-Pakistani dispute to the east with Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran in between.

The least costly, or most effective, strategy to deal with this breadth of danger is to go through Iraq. Changing that regime not only eliminates a threat. It also provides a powerful lesson for others in the region and thus may be a single solution to a multiple series of conflicts, including assuring the future security of Israel.

The problem with "vendetta" is that any such premise is a gratuitous reason to go to war and has almost certainly been exaggerated by the media in its importance. Vendetta is also a good way to lose by trivializing the aims and objectives and providing only superficial arguments to rally popular support.

"Clear and present danger" makes sense provided there is strong evidence to prove the case. But this administration has been very reluctant to provide the public and Congress (or allies and the United Nations) with records, facts and information to support its policies in a number of area. And even in seeking a Congressional Resolution, it is not clear that new and revealing information proving Saddam's extreme threat will come out.

Finally, while "one-stop shopping" is intellectually attractive, it does not discount or disprove an opposite outcome. War could unravel rather than heal the region. With 1.3 billion Arabs and Muslims, a highly negative backlash in even a small percentage of the Islamic world would be a potential catastrophe. One likely consequence is a nuclear-capable Iran. How would the administration deal with that prospect after a war with Iraq?

What then? If it is to be war, because of the extraordinary circumstances forcing a pre-emptive attack, a congressional resolution may not pack the political punch to rally the nation and convince much of the world of the seriousness of the case. Only a declaration of war can.

Many will argue strongly in dissent against both a declaration and a war, rightly citing the gravest political risks for the White House and the nation.

However, if the president ultimately believes there is no alternative for containing Saddam, there can be no clearer alternative than Congress declaring war.

A declaration may be a bridge too far. If it is, then perhaps it is the wrong bridge to cross.


Harlan Ullman is a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for Naval Analysis. This article was based on his latest book, "Unfinished Business: Afghanistan, the Middle East and Beyond Defusing the Dangers that Threaten America's Security," published by Kensington Books.

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