- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

Look, say some of the critics of this war in Iraq, other countries possess weapons of mass destruction, other regimes have committed genocide, other countries harbor terrorists, and so why is it the United States is going after Saddam Hussein?
Mightn't it be the case, some further ask in tones suggesting a psychological insight denied most mortals, that this is a personal matter with George W. Bush because Saddam tried to have his father assassinated?
Excuse the exasperation, but such questions betray an obstinate obtuseness. The simplest reply: It's the combination, stupid.
What makes Iraq a singularly important target in the war against terrorism is that it is run by a genocidal maniac with links to terrorists, that this vile dictator is hostile to the United States, that his regime is viciously oppressive, that he has a record of invading neighboring countries, that he has devoted endless energy to developing weapons of mass destruction and that he can be expeditiously defeated.
Some African nations have been equally or more genocidal, some of the critics point out. But what these nations don't have are weapons of mass murder. Saddam's genocidal history tells us something hugely important, namely that he would not have a moment's moral hesitation in employing those weapons. The African nations may deserve U.S. attention, but they are no particular threat to the United States.
The same is true of Saudi Arabia. It has had links with terrorists. And the regime is corrupt. But it is not nearly so brutal as Saddam in the treatment of its population. The Saudi family is not hostile to the United States, and this is not a regime with a nuclear weapons project.
But what about Pakistan? It already has nuclear weapons, and America-haters are rampant in the land. Someday, the United States may in fact have to confront a Pakistani government eager to abet terrorists with catastrophic ambitions. The government of the moment is our ally, however. It helped in the fighting in Afghanistan, and it has helped in the search for al Qaeda terrorists.
Iran may seem a threat that puts together many of the same elements found in Iraq, such as a nightmarish group of leaders, ties with terrorists and the potential for developing nuclear weaponry. A significant difference is a very real protest movement that may topple the regime, and sooner rather than later.
Bernard Lewis, the great Middle East expert at Princeton, has written that Saddam's collapse could push the Iranian theocracy to collapse as well. Iran has not lately shown itself particularly determined that the United States meet the prayed-for fate of all infidels. And unlike Iraq, there was not a war 12 years ago that never concluded. Iran is not in violation of 18 U.N. resolutions.
Ah, but then there's North Korea. Doesn't North Korea pose risks to America as great or greater than those posed by Iraq?
Yes. But North Korea, by most estimates, already possesses at least one and maybe two nuclear weapons. Even without them, it could probably destroy Seoul in South Korea, and with them it also threatens Japan and conceivably someday if not now the West Coast of the United States.
Part of the objective in Iraq is to keep that country from obtaining nuclear weapons with which it could blackmail the United States, as North Korea seems to be trying to do now. Also, obviously, a war against North Korea would be enormously difficult, many, many times more difficult than a war against Iraq, and it makes sense for the time being, at any rate, for North Korea's neighbors to carry the burden of diplomatic negotiations.
What about that other question from the critics the one suggesting George W. Bush is obsessed with Iraq because of the attempt on his father's life? There is a deep, anti-Bush prejudice at work in that suggestion, and it is at odds with all we know about the fact that a number of his most trusted and highly capable advisers have pushed the policies Mr. Bush is following. These advisers were not motivated by daddy-love.
The assassination effort, though, does show Saddam is a berserker. He will risk everything for the sake of getting revenge. If he had succeeded in killing a former U.S. president, the United States might well have gone to war with Iraq then, it has been suggested. A man who would risk so much to satisfy his bloodlust would also happily provide a suitcase nuke to a terrorist on the way to New York City. It's something the critics ought to think about.

Jay Ambrose is director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers.

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