Why war?

Debra J. Saunders

3/5/2003 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
What about Osama bin Laden? That's a question antiwar activists ask as an argument against the use of force in Iraq. On "Meet the Press" Sunday, activist Mike Farrell revealed that "the real villain" in the war on terror is "Osama bin Laden, who some now call Osama bin Forgotten." Apparently the antiwar left -- as typified by groups like moveon.org, for whom Farrell was speaking -- doesn't have a problem suggesting that President Bush isn't doing enough about Osama bin Laden, even though the antiwar left opposed U.S. military action that targeted bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. That said, I'll answer the question: The arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed shows that the Bush administration is continuing to pursue bin Laden -- but methodically. This is an effort not conducted through aerial bombing alone, as critics once predicted. For that, Bush deserves praise, not derision. Isn't North Korea more of a threat than Iraq? Yes, North Korea does pose more of a threat to the United States. Unlike Iraq, North Korea has nukes that could conceivably reach the West Coast. That said, if U.S.-led forces invade Iraq, it will be to prevent Saddam Hussein from gaining the same nuclear firepower that makes North Korea's threat so chilling. Consider what North Korea's official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, warned Sunday: "If the U.S. imperialists ignite a war on the Korean Peninsula, the war will turn into a nuclear war. As a consequence, the Koreans in the north and the south and the people of Asia and the rest of the world will suffer horrifying nuclear disasters." Imagine what the world would be like if Hussein had advanced long-range nuclear weapons and thus was in a position to terrorize the world with a like-minded threat? Why not give the United Nations inspectors more time? Because the inspections only count if Hussein disarms, and he has not been disarming in any meaningful sense. Because time is not the issue. Hussein has had plenty of time to comply with U.N. Resolution 1441. Because more time is what Hussein wants -- not to disarm but to stay armed. He'll run out the clock. He'll fail to comply fully. Then, someday when the world has forgotten how Hussein has abused his own people and the United Nations, someday when the world is caught up with other things, Iraq will threaten inspectors, and the inspectors will leave, as happened in 1998. Then Hussein will be free to resume the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction. Worse, Hussein will be bolder than before. He'll be sure that no one has the will to stop him. It's possible that Bush did not have to target Iraq as quickly as he did. But sooner or later, it would have been inevitable. It is now clear that Hussein, after having effectively kicked inspectors out of his country in 1998, was re-arming. Still, once the United Nations passed a resolution giving Iraq one final chance to comply and disarm, the cost of not acting became unthinkable. Backing off will embolden Hussein, and Kim Jong Il, and every other tin-pot dictator in this dangerous world. Note how former President Clinton's decision to recall American troops from a humanitarian mission in Somalia -- after 18 soldiers were killed -- served to encourage Al Qaeda. Bin Laden later told Time Magazine: "The youth were surprised at the low morale of the American soldiers and realized more than before that the American soldier was a paper tiger and after a few blows ran in defeat." If the West were to back off now, Hussein would see only one thing: weakness. Fatal weakness.