Terror & Tyranny, by the numbers

Posted: Mar 29, 2004 12:00 AM

  As we?re learning from the 9/11 commission, if the United States hadn?t squandered its many opportunities to kill Osama bin Laden before 2001, there?s a good chance 3,000 Americans would not have perished on September 11th.

 Don?t worry, this is not another ?what if? exercise.  It is, however, a worthwhile exploration of the numbers of terror and tyranny.

  Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda carried out four attacks in the 1990?s, yet they were more or less given free reign to carry on as usual. 

  The 1993 World Trade Center attack was followed by? nothing.  Ditto for the Khobar Towers bombings in 1996, which at first appeared to have Iranian origins, but now seems to have at least had al Qaeda?s help.  The 1998 East Africa Bombings got somebody else?s factory bombed in Sudan.  And the U.S.S. Cole attack that killed 17 soldiers and wounded more than 100 in 2000 produced a response of, well, a briefing. 

  Incoming members of the new Bush administration, according to former Clinton aides testifying before the 9/11 commission, were warned that al Qaeda was the most menacing and dangerous force on the face of the earth?a perception clearly reinforced by Clinton?s cunning strategy of laying low and refusing to respond.

  Maybe if, instead of asking the Taliban to ?hand over? bin Laden, we had invaded Afghanistan a few months before we actually did, ?9/11? wouldn?t have been burned into the American vernacular.

  On the one-year anniversary of the war in Iraq, the only second-guessing going on seems to be whether or not Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.  Never mind that David Kay reported that Saddam himself believed he had WMD, and that Iraq clearly had the capability to whip up plenty of lethal biological weapons in just a couple of weeks for the purpose of easily killing thousands of innocent civilians.

  But lack of WMD is not the primary peacenik argument against the ?ominous? doctrine of preemption.  Even if it turns out Saddam didn?t have WMD?which we?ll never know unless we comb every inch of Syria?plenty of bad guys openly possess WMD, and peaceniks want them to stay in power just as much as they wanted Saddam to stay put.

  So the doves talk about civilian casualties during a war.  It?s a brilliant strategy, non?  All wars involve civilian casualties, no matter how many smart bombs and no matter how many precautions are taken. 

  But the numbers not examined are the ones that would happen in the absence of war.

  If we had dropped a daisy cutter on Kim Jong-Il?s North Korean palace in 1994 instead of signing a worthless nonproliferation treaty, more than two million North Koreans would be alive today?and they?d be breathing freedom.  Would some civilians have died?  Of course.  But nowhere near two million.  Not even close.

  And lest we forget that in roughly a quarter-century, Saddam killed anywhere from half-million to over one million people, according to most reasonable estimates.  That doesn?t count the untold suffering in Saddam?s torture chambers and rape rooms.  Given Saddam?s annual death toll, he could have murdered upwards of 50,000 people this year alone?far more civilians than even the most rabid America-haters contend have died in the past year.

  Israel is finally starting to figure out that terror is a top-down plague, not some grassroots ?uprising.?  If only they had killed the head of Hamas and his minions years ago, many of the 377 innocent Israelis Hamas slaughtered might be alive today.  Even many or most of the 52 young Palestinians Sheikh Ahmed Yassin brainwashed to their gruesome ends might still be in one piece.

  Does this mean the United States should adopt its own targeted assassination policy?  Not necessarily, but it should completely undercut the argument that somehow civilians under the thumb of a murderous thug suffer more when that tyrant is toppled.

  The one set of numbers not available for analysis?the number of innocent Americans killed in a second 9/11 perpetrated with Saddam?s help?is probably the most important of all, precisely because there will never be such a number.  Thankfully, we will never need a commission to wring its hands about our inability to stop Saddam in time.