Is Iraq a distraction?

Posted: Jan 28, 2003 12:00 AM
House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asked on television whether she supported military action against Iraq, kept returning to the same two answers. We must consult with the United Nations, and we must not let this distract us from the war on terror. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., expressed the same sentiments. The Bush administration, he argued, is guilty of "blustering unilateralism," a mistake President Kerry would never make. "The nation's chief priority should be pursuing a war against terrorism, not a war" against Saddam Hussein, the presidential aspirant announced, adding, "They (the Bush administration) are really breaking a bond with the American people by proceeding so hell-bent-for-leather, 'We've got to go no matter what.'" As one who doesn't mind a little unilateralism now and then, I find Kerry's accusation risible. What have we been doing for the past 12 months if not painstakingly consulting with the United Nations and our "allies" (it's not entirely clear that France desires or deserves this description)? For what reason, other than scrupulous concern for world opinion, did President Bush agree to this absurd charade of inspections? It's absurd because Iraq admitted to having WMDs at the end of the Gulf War, hid them from inspectors for seven years and finally booted out the UN inspectors in 1998. Are we to believe that Saddam expelled UN inspectors and then abandoned his arsenal? Iraq now says that they have absolutely no weapons of mass destruction, but as even Hans Blix acknowledges, they refuse to provide a shred of evidence that their known stores have been destroyed. Far from unilateral, the United States has arguably been multilateral to a fault, providing France, China and Russia with an opportunity to strut their stuff at our expense. And what do the Democrats mean when they fret that the war against Iraq (which will probably begin in mid-February) will distract us from the war on terror? Someone should ask them what their concept of the war on terror is. Do they mean the tracking and arrest of individuals around the world? Those tasks, and others -- including blocking money flows -- are important, but they are primarily police work. That was the way President Clinton fought the war on terror. He treated it as a matter of criminal justice. Bush's great departure was to treat terror as a matter of war. In the first days after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush clarified his new approach. We would make no distinction, he warned, between those who commit terror and the regimes that harbor and support them. There is no other way to take the battle to the enemy than to take on the regimes that permit terrorists to operate. Do the Democrats believe that liberating Afghanistan finishes the job? We could spend the next 25 years carefully tracking individual terrorists and assembling legal cases against them, and still never make a dent in the threat that faces this country. The terror that threatens our lives and our way of life arises from a poisonous mix of despotism and religious extremism in the Moslem world. Many of those regimes -- Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt -- promote violence and religious hatred, and we must deal with them each in turn (though not necessarily militarily). But Iraq is both extremist and reckless. Only Iraq has invaded two neighbors and used poison gas. Only Iraq has been willing to create an environmental catastrophe (the Kuwaiti oil well fires) out of pique. Iraq is a direct sponsor of terrorist groups and a bitter enemy of the United States. (Critics of the war argue that Iraq was not our enemy until we forced them to disgorge Kuwait in 1991 -- but that proves what, exactly?) Disarming Iraq is necessary for our safety and the world's, but it is also an opportunity, because by invading and pacifying this crucial crossroads of the Middle East, we may go far toward defusing the fires of hatred that now burn in Arab hearts. If we are able to leave behind a functioning democracy in Iraq, however flawed it will doubtless be, the entire region will eventually be transformed for the better. Some distraction.