With the president and Secretary Powell joining the British in declaring Iraq to be in breach of UN resolutions, all indicators point to a winter war. Though 60 percent of the American people do not believe the president has made the case for war, nine in 10 believe war is coming. They are almost surely right.
Reserves are being called up and sent to the Gulf. Four U.S. aircraft carriers -- the Nimitz, Kitty Hawk, Abraham Lincoln and Harry S Truman -- are in the region. The Constellation is on the way. Britain's Ark Royal will bring to six the number of carrier battle groups within striking distance of Baghdad.
With all this firepower present in the Gulf, and after all his bellicose rhetoric about "regime change," can President Bush now back away from war, while assuring our War Party that Hans Blix is disarming Iraq? No way.
Absent regime change in Baghdad in 2003, President Bush risks regime change in Washington in 2004.
Yet, our obsession with Saddam Hussein seems to be blinding the president and the
administration to greater and more imminent dangers.
Afghanistan is far from pacified. Al Qaeda elements are back in the country. President Karzai has survived one assassination attempt and several plots. Iran, whose oil resources are abundant, plans to build two new nuclear power plants that produce weapons-grade uranium or plutonium. Its missile-building program is far ahead of that of Saddam Hussein's.
In Pakistan, anti-Americanism is pandemic, and Islamists have taken over two of four provinces. This disintegrating nation is but one assassin's bullet away from being a rogue state with nuclear weapons.
But it is North Korea where the situation appears truly ominous. Caught in flagrante by U.S. intelligence, Pyongyang brazenly confessed that it is constructing two secret plants to produce weapons grade uranium in violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea closed a plutonium production plant in return for food and fuel aid.
Retired U.S. Gen. Barry McCaffrey describes the brooding menace that is the hermit kingdom: "The North Koreans are a huge, immediate and unpredictable threat to the security of South Korea, Japan and U.S. military forces in the region. A million-man army, which has in uniform 20 percent of the military age male population, consumes 31 percent of the GDP in this land of misery and starvation. The 10 million innocent people of Seoul live within the potential range of 11,000-plus North Korean artillery weapons."
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, McCaffrey notes that North Korea already has hundreds of missiles that could spew biological toxins, nerve gases, deadly chemicals and a few atom bombs across South Korea, Japan and every U.S. base in the Western Pacific. "The North Koreans are going to use this coming year to rush nuclear weapons into production and operational deployment. We must attempt to forestall this WMD proliferation through direct diplomacy or else we may be forced into pre-emptive military action within the next five years."
"Forced into pre-emptive military action"? Intending no disrespect, if, in five years, North Korea has vast arsenals of chemical and biological weapons, thousands of missiles and artillery shells to deliver them, and a dozen nuclear-armed rockets, what sane man would launch a first strike on North Korea? This would trigger almost certain and suicidal retaliation with those very weapons of mass destruction, whose use our strike was designed to prevent.
For the United States to start an Asian war by attacking North Korea and triggering a crazed retaliatory response by Pyongyang with chemical, biological and nuclear missiles on South Korea and Japan is probably something we ought to discuss with Seoul and Tokyo. They may have some thoughts on the wisdom of the idea.
What course does General McCaffrey recommend? "Pyongyang must be held in loose check for at least 12 months, until we deal with the acute stage of the Iraqi crisis."
Translation: First, we invade, overrun, occupy and disarm Iraq, then shift the carriers, bombers and ground divisions to the vicinity of North Korea, order Pyongyang to shut down its nuclear facilities and allow inspections. If North Korea refuses, we prepare a pre-emptive strike that would surely trigger a second Korean War.
Sixty percent of the American people do not believe President Bush has yet made the case for war on Iraq. Have they any idea that the War Party, which has the president's ear, is planning even more wars in the years ahead -- in their name? Happy New Year.