- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

I was impressed by the words of the judge who sentenced Richard Reid, the shoe bomber who couldn't manage to blow himself up aboard a trans-Atlantic flight. But not impressed in the way the judge doubtless intended.
Imposing a life sentence on this all-around loser a light sentence, indeed, considering the death and destruction the defendant had hoped to wreak The Hon. William Young swept aside the wannabe bomber's threats of revenge:
"We are not afraid of any of your terrorist co-conspirators," His Honor told the would-be mass killer. "We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. You are not an enemy combatant you are a terrorist … and we do not negotiate with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice."
Attorney General John Ashcroft echoed the same theme: "The sentence imposed on Richard Reid says to the world that terrorists cannot escape American justice. We will hunt them down, stop them, and we will put them away."
All of which is fine as far as it goes. Which isn't far enough. What worries is the emphasis on tracking down terrorists one by one instead of dealing with the regimes that produce, support and dispatch them. If the war against terror is reduced to a manhunt for individual killers, then the war will go on until the last terrorist is caught, which could take approximately forever. To win this long, twilight struggle, we'll have to go to the source.
A virulent hatred of America is being preached in the Middle East and around the world, and that propaganda is often echoed by regimes that claim to have no connection with terror. Yet they give these jihadists aid and comfort, not to mention hideouts. The way Saddam Hussein sheltered the late and unlamented Abu Nidal. And continues to work with others, as Colin Powell pointed out in his prosecutor's brief at the United Nations.
That's why, in addition to tracking down individual terrorists like Richard Reid, the Free World must go after those governments that produce, nourish and dispatch them.
Terror needs a sponsor in order to flourish. It needs a base like Afghanistan before September 11, 2001, or the mosque where Richard Reid hung out in London, or the caves along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan. Terrorists don't come from nowhere. A number of them have come from Iraq.
To focus all our efforts on al Qaeda terrorists would be a mistake. It would reduce the West to only reacting to waging a defensive war against terror. And wars are not won on the defensive. It would be as if, after September 11, this country had gone after al Qaeda but not overthrown the Taliban that protected, produced and supported these killers out of Afghanistan. It's not enough to kill the occasional wasps; the hive must be destroyed.
One of the arguments against the current focus on Iraq is that liberating the country from Saddam Hussein's grip would distract us from the war against terror. But the hunt for terrorists is more likely to distract us from the war against Iraq. Both are part of the same plague. For it is regimes like Saddam Hussein's that could give the terrorists not only refuge but the most terrible weapons chemical, biological and nuclear.
We're told to concentrate on defending ourselves against the terrorists rather than go after their source. We're warned that, if we do, we'll set off a wave of terrorist attacks in revenge. That is what Richard Reid promised at his sentencing.
Goodness, what do you think these terrorists will do to us if we strike in Iraq fly planes full of passengers into the World Trade Center? Attack the Pentagon? Dispatch inept suicide bombers to blow up airliners above the Atlantic?
It has all been done. And more will be done unless the source of the infection is cleaned out.
No, toppling Saddam Hussein will not put an end to the hatred for America that pervades a once great but now sick, decayed civilization. But acting in Iraq will strike a clarifying blow at the widespread contempt for America in that part of the world. We're supposed to be a fat, weak, self-absorbed society that trembles before a few suicide bombers. After Afghanistan, that delusion was a little harder to sell.
After Iraq, it will be impossible.
This time America and her allies must not be distracted from total, unconditional victory in Iraq. Not even by al Qaeda which is only a byproduct, not the source, of all this poison. It would be a serious mistake to let a terrorist organization obscure a far greater danger in the making: a terrorist regime, and one armed with some of the most terrible weapons ever known to man.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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