The tipping point

Posted: Dec 16, 2003 12:00 AM
History will likely record December 13, 2003 as the tipping point in the liberation of Iraq. Of course, much of importance preceded that moment - the U.S.-led invasion of the country, the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime and the beginnings of an expensive and time-consuming reconstruction. Still, there is reason to believe that, when American forces dug the former Iraqi dictator out of his rathole in Tikrit on Saturday night, the beginning of the end of the nightmare he inflicted on so many for so long had arrived.

To be sure, as with the turning points of most military campaigns - the battles of Gettysburg and Midway come to mind - there will surely be a great deal more bloodshed and loss of life and property at the hands of the Saddam's loyalists and their imported allies. But there can be little doubt now that those who persist in attacks on the human and physical resources of Iraq are just what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has long called them: Dead-enders.

The capture of Saddam should make clear to all, and most especially to the people of Iraq, a fundamental reality: The liberators of the country are going to prevail.

This perception is likely to have profound implications, both within Iraq and elsewhere. These should include the following:

The anti-liberation insurgency will, over time, diminish. This will be partly because of the inevitable, demoralizing effect on the attackers of the elimination of the man in whose name the resistance was being mounted.

A more important factor, however, will be that the environment in which the attackers have operated will become substantially less hospitable to them and their efforts to kill allied forces, international relief workers and Iraqis who have cooperated in Coalition efforts to secure and rebuild their country. It is hard to overstate the traumatizing effect the prospect of Saddam's return has had on a deeply scarred people. In his absence, there is no reason to accommodate his henchmen and every reason to work with others who oppose them.

Foreign fighters may be another matter. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria all have their reasons for wanting to thwart the experiment in an Arab democracy President Bush is helping Free Iraqis to forge. By definition, however, such foreigners will have an even harder time operating unseen among the people of Iraq than will the former regime loyalists. The United States must help the Iraqis to root out and neutralize these predominantly radical Muslim (or "Islamist") forces by helping to secure Iraq's borders and to dissuade neighboring countries from allowing them to be penetrated.

The attitudes of others in the so-called international community are clearly being affected by Saddam's capture. Foreign leaders who last week were bitterly critical of the Bush Administration's sensible decision to deny the French, Germans and Russians U.S.-taxpayer-funded reconstruction contracts in Iraq have been positively civil now that the Butcher of Baghdad is in custody.

It may be that this new attitude reflects the same sort of tipping point-calculation that is at work among Iraqis. Or perhaps it is evidence of something else: A renewed concern that interrogations of Saddam Hussein himself, or of subordinates who need no longer fear his retribution, will disclose embarrassing new evidence of foreign governments' complicity in propping up the tyrrant.

Former deputy premier Tariq Aziz has already reportedly blabbed that the French and Russians had promised Saddam they would never let the UN do anything to remove him from power. Others have revealed efforts made by Communist China in the run-up to the war to enhance Iraq's air defense systems, the better to kill American and British airmen patrolling the no-fly zones. One can only imagine the discomfiture in certain capitals over the skeletons that remain in Saddam's closet - involving corrupt and/or dangerous military, financial, oil and other transactions.

Another factor is the prospect that what comes out next will only further vindicate George Bush and Tony Blair - and add to the ignominy of those who opposed the liberation of Iraq. For example, the Sunday Telegraph of London reported on December 14, that Iraqi authorities have discovered "documentary proof that Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks against the U.S., was trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist."

All of these considerations should help former Secretary of State James Baker's efforts to induce those who lent Saddam Hussein billions for weapons purchases and other purposes relieve the Iraqi people of his damning legacy of debt.

Finally, Democratic candidates for Mr. Bush's job are busily repositioning themselves on Iraq. This appears to reflect their own calculation that the tipping point may have been reached - and that what appeared lately to be a real political liability for the President might once again prove to be his strong suit.

The struggle to liberate Iraq is not over. More heartache and reverses are in store, some of which may prompt the short-sighted to think it still will not be accomplished. If, however, we stay the course and exhibit the resolve, competence and skillful use of the military, economic and political tools at our disposal, December 13th will indeed prove to be the beginning - not only of the end of Saddam's malignant legacy, but of a new, secure and free Iraq.