Evidence against Iraq?

Posted: Oct 10, 2001 12:00 AM
Robert Novak, much admired in this quarter, reported on his "Crossfire" program that conservatives were deeply divided on the matter of whether the United States should strike out against Saddam Hussein. On this matter he is adamant, insisting that there is no justification for doing this unless we have in hand concrete evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 massacre.

There are two points to make here. The first: Is there in fact such evidence against Iraq? The second: Do we need to wait for such evidence, if it is there, before proceeding against Iraq?

Laurie Mylroie's book, "Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America," reports persuasively that Saddam Hussein was the sponsor of the 1993 attempt on the World Trade Center. That was a huge effort, unsuccessful by the standards of Sept. ll, but although the building did not collapse, six people were killed, and a 100-foot-wide crater opened up.

One Ramzi Yousef was given two life sentences and is serving them out in Colorado. He said that his ambition had been to kill 250,000 people. Mylroie documents a huge effort to disguise his identity, alleging that he is in fact an Iraqi intelligence agent and that the work he did could not have been done by a deracinated band of terrorists.

To be sure, we have been taught that far more sophisticated acts than the 1993 attempt can be consummated without apparent state backing. We have satisfied ourselves and our allies that Osama bin Laden is the dominant figure of Sept. 11. We have not established that the Taliban government sponsored the terrorist act, but we are proceeding on the assumption that bin Laden could not have masterminded the slaughter without the backing of the government.

We should remind ourselves that we are dealing with tyrannical states. It's true that the Taliban government can't make enough cornflakes for the Afghan people, but it does manage to control 90 percent of Afghanistan. It is beyond reasonable doubt that bin Laden proceeded with the tacit backing of the government, never mind its disavowal of Sept. 11.

Saddam Hussein has also disavowed the act. So? Osama bin Laden also disavowed it, while congratulating the enterprise of its perpetrators. The density of the intrigue discourages conclusions that claim to be self-evident. We proceed against Afghanistan without such evidence as could survive, say, a trial with Johnnie Cochran upholding the innocence of bin Laden.

The position of some of the conservatives Mr. Novak warns against is that we have a de facto case against Saddam Hussein. The evidence at hand is not what we would need in a court of law. We would not, in 1942, have been able to prove that Adolf Hitler was exterminating the Jews.

We proceed on reasonable grounds. Saddam Hussein shelters terrorists. Abdul Rahman Yasin, a central figure in the 1993 bombing, an indicted fugitive, is sheltered in Iraq. Saddam Hussein has essayed, at the expense of the Kurds, genocide. He catalyzed a great military enterprise by invading Kuwait. He has slaughtered dissidents and cultivates the final weapons of war.

We do not propose military exercises aimed at correcting abuses in derelict governments. The primary distinction, in the matter of Iraq, is that it is aligned with a force -- a brotherhood -- that under the banner of Islam, makes war against us. It can choose its targets with total concern for its own interests. But it ought not to be permitted to do so under the shelter of anonymity.

The White House's Ari Fleischer contradicted a report in Amman last week to the effect that President Bush had promised Jordan's King Abdullah that the United States would not move against Iraq. That doesn't mean that Mr. Bush intends to move against Iraq. At this moment, eyes train exclusively on Afghanistan.

But it was Mr. Bush who said on Sept. 12 that our enemy is not only the activators of the slaughter, but also those who give them shelter. It's true that many voices of Islam protest any contemplated action against Iraq and that diplomatic caution correctly informs us on what course to take.

But we do not need conclusive evidence of Iraq's participation in anti-U.S. terrorism to issue an ultimatum: Open your borders to an uninhibited inspection of Iraqi recesses of terrorist and aggressive activity. And deliver Abdul Rahman Yasin, handcuffed, to our embassy in Kuwait.