By most opinion surveys, the majority that supports the
president's resolve to invade Iraq has been shrinking. But were Saddam close
to getting an atom bomb, four in five Americans would back a pre-emptive
Thus, the administration and the Brits last week have trumpeted
a report by the International Institute of Strategic Studies on Iraq's
progress and got the headline they wanted in the London Evening Standard:
"Saddam A-Bomb 'Within Months'"
A look at that IISS report, however, suggests the Evening
Standard is dishing up war propaganda as news. What does it say?
Saddam, almost surely, does not have an atom bomb. He lacks the
enriched uranium or plutonium necessary to build one and would have to
acquire fissile material from some other country. He is like a fellow who
wants to cook rabbit stew, in a country where there are no rabbits. And
there is no evidence Saddam is in the market for enriched uranium or
plutonium, or is even at work on a bomb.
However, if Saddam could acquire 40 pounds of enriched uranium,
he could probably build a bomb of the explosive power of the "Big Boy" we
dropped on Hiroshima. But even that is not certain. IISS conclusion: Saddam
was closer to an atom bomb in 1991 than he is today. As for his chemical and
biological weapons, Saddam's arsenal was largely destroyed by 1998, though a
five-year absence of U.N. inspectors has given him time to rebuild his
Yet, even if Saddam has these dread weapons, can he deliver
them? His decimated air force consists of a few hundred Russian and French
planes, generations older than the latest U.S. models. Most of his missile
force was shot off in the Gulf War or destroyed by U.S. bombs or U.N.
inspectors. Iraq may retain a dozen al-Hussein missiles of 400-mile range.
But America now has drones that can spot flaring rockets at lift-off and
fire missiles to kill them in the boost phase.
In every military category, then, Saddam is weaker than when he
invaded Kuwait. IISS's conclusion: "Wait and the threat will grow. Strike
and the threat may be used."
What the IISS is saying is: Saddam is probably beavering away on
weapons of mass destruction. But a pre-emptive war could trigger the firing,
upon U.S. troops, of the very weapons of mass destruction from which
President Bush is trying to protect us.
How did we get here? In 1998, Clinton, anxious to distract our
attention from a lady named Monica, ordered air strikes on Iraq. U.N.
inspectors were pulled out. Thus, we know less now than we did in 1998 about
Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.
And Bush's bellicosity has probably convinced Libya, Syria, Iran
and Iraq that their only safety from a U.S. "pre-emptive war" lies in a
nuclear deterrent. If the "axis-of-evil" regimes we have been daily
threatening are trolling petrodollars in desperation in front of the Russian
Mafia to buy some second-hand Soviet nukes, would anyone be surprised?
Which begs the question: Has the Bush-Cheney shift in policy --
asserting a U.S. right to launch pre-emptive war to deny weapons of mass
destruction to U.S.-designated rogue regimes -- created the most compelling
of incentives for rogue regimes to acquire those weapons? Is the Bush-Cheney
anti-proliferation policy the principal propellant of Islamic nuclear
From hard evidence, what may we reasonably conclude? A) Saddam
does not have an atom bomb or the critical component to build one, and is
not known to be in the market for the uranium he would need. B) While he has
chemical and biological weapons, his delivery systems have been degraded. C)
He has had these toxins for 15 years and never once used them on U.S.
forces, though we smashed his country, tried to kill him half a dozen times
and have a CIA contract out on his head.
Why, if Saddam is a madman, has he not used gas or anthrax on
us? Osama would -- in a heartbeat. Probable answer: Saddam does not want
himself, his sons, his legacy, his monuments, his dynasty, his army and his
country obliterated and occupied by Americans, and himself entering the
history books as the dumbest Arab of them all. Rational fear has deterred
this supposedly irrational man. Has it not?
Why, then, is the United States, having lost 3,000 people in an
terrorist atrocity by an Al Qaeda network that is alive and anxious to kill
thousands more, about to launch a new war on a country that even its
neighbors -- Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia -- believe to be
What is this obsession with Saddam Hussein?