Start counting your days, Saddam

Ross Mackenzie

1/30/2003 12:00:00 AM - Ross Mackenzie
Oh, the benefits of underestimation. Let them say you're intellectually under-equipped and not up to the job - you just don't have what it takes. Let them say you're uncultivated and you talk like a bumpkin from far beyond the Pecos. Let them say you're insufficiently nuanced, you were born too high to be caring, and in flying too fast and too low you lost the capacity to comprehend the many complexities of domestic and foreign policy necessary to lead a sophisticated citizenry. One day you become president, and still they say those ineffably stupid things - even after your magnificent post-9/11 speech. And they persist in saying them as Arab "moderates" and ever-fickle continental Europeans - and inconstant nellies on the American left - wander off the reservation of support for doing the necessary regarding Saddam. And so you give them one speech, the speech of your life, and run up the score - and suddenly it's a different game, just the way it was so often for your idols, Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan. One speech, leaving the other side befuddled and with no rational retort. For a year you've been formalizing the notion of preemption, contending that Saddam has got to go. For a year you've been cataloguing Saddam's butcheries, his savageries, his terrorizing and murder and gassing of his own people - notably Shiites and Kurds. For a year you have been echoing the testimonies of Iraqi defectors as to Saddam's single-minded development of nuclear and biochemical weapons - and his detailed duplicities in hiding them. Perhaps foremost among those defectors is Khidhir Hamzi, whose 2000 book "Saddam's Bombmaker" (Simon and Schuster), makes clear how close the nuclear program Hamzi headed came to developing a nuclear bomb before his harrowing escape in 1994. For a year you have been operating diplomatically while deliberately assembling the requisite military forces if Saddam does not comply. Finally, on Tuesday night, you present the full case with full force in a way they said - and say - you lack the smarts and moxie and rhetoric and leadership skills to do. Oh, the benefits of underestimation and the sufferance of fools. "Perseverance is power," you say in the State of the Union. The 108 UN inspectors "are not on a scavenger hunt" in a country the size of California. Liberty is the ultimate cause. "Free people will set the course of history"; "the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others." And, to those on the line in the U.S. military: "Your training has prepared you. Your honor will guide you. You believe in America - and America believes in you." Suddenly it's a new game, and Saddam's days are numbered - again. Dennis Ross, a coordinator of Middle Eastern policy under Bush I and President Clinton, has written: "There should be no mistake about the consequences of letting (Saddam) get away with a partial disclosure of his WMD program and efforts. ... (He will believe) that the game remains, and that he need not stop pursuing nuclear weapons and more destructive means of delivering biological and chemical agents." Yet the sophisticates in Europe and on the American left never will embrace Saddam's congenital malice, just as Franklin Roosevelt (in a note to Churchill the day before his death) sought to "minimize the general Soviet problem as much as possible." But Churchill saw "the Soviet problem" clearly, as he saw the Nazi problem far more clearly than most Britons, and urged his people, from the '30s through the '50s, to "never flinch, never weary, never despair." Churchill saw, as Reagan did - and this Bush. In one speech Tuesday night he changed the game. Saddam is as good as gone. And when he is, the nigglers and nellies - here and abroad - will continue to underestimate him by saying it was all their idea.