WASHINGTON – Longtime foreign policy hawk Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., continued to rattle the saber against Saddam Hussein Wednesday night, insisting that the United States complete its unfinished business from the Persian Gulf War and oust the Iraqi president.
"I am convinced that the war on terrorism cannot and will not end until Saddam Hussein suffers the same fate as the Taliban," he said in remarks before a Hillsdale College Freedom Leadership dinner where he was receiving a leadership award.
Helms said the United States does not yet know whether Hussein was directly involved with the Sept. 11 attacks, but "there is a mountain of evidence linking him to international terrorism generally and to bin Laden’s terrorist network specifically."
Since the end of the Persian Gulf War against Iraq in 1991, Helms has led the charge for ousting Iraqi dictator Hussein, who has managed to hold onto power despite continuous enforcement of two no-fly zones and U.N.-imposed economic sanctions.
Helms, who is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been a strong supporter of the sanctions, which were imposed after Hussein’s military invaded Kuwait.
After the war, the United Nations, led by the United States, maintained those sanctions — minus humanitarian assistance — citing Iraq's failure to comply with U.N. treaties dictating inspections of Iraq’s reported arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Hussein kicked out the last team of inspectors in 1998.
In 1999, Helms joined a bipartisan group of senators who urged President Clinton to remain focused on the Iraqi threat.
"Since the beginning of this year, however, we have noted signs of a reduced priority in U.S. policy towards Iraq," the letter stated, urging Clinton to get inspections teams back into the Middle Eastern country and start funding opposition forces there.
For Helms, the Sept. 11 attacks by Al Qaeda hijackers represent his worst fears about world terrorism, lackluster national security measures, and the failure to deal more severely with nations like Iraq which sponsor terrorism.
"As shocking as the Sept. 11 events were, it should have come as no surprise that our nation was once again challenged by aggressors bent on her destruction," he said Wednesday. "Over the past decade, America let down her guard."
With America's guard now back up, President Bush said last week that he would again urge Hussein to open his country up to inspectors or "he’ll find out" how the U.S. plans to retaliate. He has not yet elaborated on the threat despite growing speculation that Iraq might be the next step in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
House lawmakers are also jumping on the Iraq-bashing bandwagon by introducing a bill that calls for renewed inspections, Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News Wednesday.
"If we leave him alone with no monitoring or inspections, it's just a matter of time," he said. "I think sitting on the sidelines is unacceptable."
But so far Bush's top war guns have yet to make a strong statement either way, perhaps to avoid spurning allies who oppose targeting Iraq as the next move in the war against terror.
Meeting with Turkish officials in Ankara Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States knows Iraq is a sponsor of terrorism and will do everything in its power to prevent Hussein from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
But knowing Turkey's opposition to attacking Iraq, Powell was careful to say Bush "has made no decision with respect to what the next phase in our campaign against terrorism might be."