War on Hussein

Posted: Sep 17, 2001 12:00 AM
It stokes our fury to see or read about demonstrations in parts of the Mideast cheering the devastation of the hijackers. The reality, which at first brings a measure of human understanding, on reflection makes things worse.

All of us continue to cheer those moments in movies when we see huge destruction wrought on the historic enemy: 30 seconds-over-Tokyo kind of thing, which three years later graduated into 30 minutes over Berlin, 1945, with 25 times the deaths of Sept. 11, 2001. The focus makes it understandable that there should be those who jump for joy at the remarkable coordinated successes of the hijackers, seeing them as Flying Wallendas executing death-defying stunts in circus air.

But then we force ourselves to recognize the perspective from which one cheered such a thing as Hiroshima. We were at war. Some of the Mideast community are at war. Sept. 11, for them, was nothing more than a great theatrical episode.

As with tangos, wars require two parties. And it is time for the reluctant party to act. But in doing so we need to take stock of our own perspective. The enemy has one resource primarily, which is craft. Our resource is: mass. And our problem is: where to direct that mass. The search for Osama bin Laden from the skies is almost certainly futile. The spectacle of the United States dropping bombs or firing missiles at miscellaneous mountain peaks in Afghanistan is appropriately suggested by a search for Kandahar, where bin Laden occasionally sleeps.

Spokesmen for the administration have given the correct signal, which is that we have more in mind, at this moment, than mere retaliation against co-actors in the New York/Pentagon strikes. The terrorist act of Sept. 11 was the fruit of a culture nourished by a hatred of America as an aggressive infidel, and of its ways as incomprehensibly liberal.

The strain that produced Osama bin Laden is perhaps the most toxic immediately experienced, but it isn't by any means the whole of the plant. And it isn't a growth that would go away if Israel ceased to exist. It is a culture fed by religious and imperial history and by the dogged cultivation of animus. To cope with this requires, in an age of technological weaponry, a decisive confrontation, and the theater for this is Iraq.

It is here and there suggested (for instance, by the writer Mark Helprin) that what was done in New York can only be viewed as prelude to ultimate acts of terrorism, e.g., a nuclear bomb or pint of anthrax. This is, of course, speculative, but what isn't speculative is that the machinery of ultimate acts of terrorism is on the drawing boards of Saddam Hussein, whose earliest nuclear program was disrupted by an enterprising Israeli air strike 20 years ago.

We have important advantages in making Saddam Hussein the target of massive U.S. action. We've been at war with him, under the sanction of a United Nations resolution that called for disabling the threat posed by the Iraq of Saddam Hussein. We know now that we made a serious mistake in failing to consummate the war we had engaged in under brilliant political and military leadership.

We lost the first round there when we called an end to the engagement before uprooting the prime instigator of the aggression. And we lost it again after seven years of desultory efforts to assure that Iraq was not at work producing atomic-biological-chemical weapons. Those years seemed endless, and Richard Butler pleaded with the West to pry from Hussein access to little quarries where A-B-C weapons might be gestating. But as with enforcing economic sanctions against Iraq, the Western will drooped. The U.N. commission to explore forbidden weaponry more or less folded, job incomplete.

The approach now should be very different. The word to Saddam Hussein should be: We are coming into Baghdad. We will arrive in force together with Pakistani, Egyptian and Russian military units. Your aggressive war of l990 and your shelter of terrorist units ever since make you an enemy.

From now on, enemies who are associated with terrorist activity will not cohabit the globe with the United States of America.