The talk is turning to the next stage, Phase II, in what may become the 100 Years War Against Terror.
President Bush insists on "first things first" - i.e., finishing the job in Afghanistan before moving on to other sectors. That may happen soon or never.
Coalition troops may find Osama bin Laden and put a bullet through him (please spare us the spectacle of capture and trial before an international tribunal). Tunnel rats or a newfangled bomb may fry him in an Afghan cave, leaving the world forever uncertain of his death. Or he may escape to parts unknown.
The point is: Short of a quick death for Osama resulting in his head en brochette, the completion of "first things" in Afghanistan faces an indefinite future.
The president also has been clear from the outset that Afghanistan is "just the beginning." He has highlighted the Sinister Six predator nations - Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya and North Korea - as dread manufacturers of nuclear and/or biochemical weapons. On Monday, he warned North Korea to admit inspectors to check on its nuclear weapons program. He also warned Iraq to admit inspectors searching for evidence of weapons of mass destruction - inspectors Iraq has not allowed in since 1998, in violation of Iraq's surrender agreements at the end of the Gulf War.
"If anybody harbors a terrorist, they're a terrorist. If they fund a terrorist, they're a terrorist. If they house terrorists, they're terrorists. I can't make it any [clearer] to other nations around the world. If they develop weapons of mass destruction that will be used to terrorize nations, they will be held accountable."
Bush had this note for Saddam Hussein: "He needs to let inspectors back in his country, to show us that he is not developing weapons of mass destruction." And what happens if Saddam doesn't? Cryptically: "He'll find out."
If all this is not mere bombast, Bush must capitalize on his momentum (his father called it "Big Mo") and get with a program to neutralize Saddam. As former CIA Director James Woolsey has written: "We know of many meetings between Iraqi intelligence and various terrorists. And we know for a fact that Saddam tried to assassinate former President George Bush in the spring of 1993."
The 9/11 attacks changed the calculus whereby some contended that because Saddam posed no threat to the United States, he could be left in place. Yet his clear role in training anti-American terrorists, combined with his eagerness to provide the worst sorts of weapons to Osama and his acolytes, argue persuasively for his removal - and the sooner the better.
Saddam has given America and the West ample (begin ital) casus belli (end ital). He has also had ample chances to prove himself the good guy he is not.
The usuals in the commentariat (The New York Times ran a Monday lead editorial entitled "The Wrong Time to Fight Iraq") are saying as they always do: "War is not the way; reach out to the indigenous peoples;
cultivate an internal opposition; exploit differences between Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Kurds; bribe the army. Those are today's versions of 'let us reason together' and 'tiptoe through the tulips' and 'make love, not war.'" Trouble is, Saddam has demonstrated his adamant lack of interest in such hippie formulations. And he doesn't abide internal opponents; he kills them.
The Middle East never will be stable with Saddam Hussein in it. His untapped oil reserves are second only to the Saudis'. He is a principal - probably THE principal - in the effort to destroy the United States. And he wars against his own people.
President Bush should instruct the Pentagon to devise a plan for the removal of Saddam and the destruction of his terror capabilities - call it Enduring Freedom II. The Afghanistan experience, plus today's weaponry and the still-eviscerated and demoralized condition of Iraqi forces, effectively refute the proposition that an anti-Saddam enterprise would require anywhere close to the troops enlisted for the Gulf War.
Complete the job in Afghanistan to the extent that it can be; if possible, put Osama's head on a stick.
Then, with Enduring Freedom II in effect and Coalition assets in place, inform Saddam that the Coalition expects him to open Iraq to weapons inspectors by 6 p.m. tomorrow. When he refuses, begin delivering the consequences and - this time - complete the job left unfinished 10 years ago.