Published August 21, 2002
Policy, like nature, abhors a vacuum.
That's an adage I just coined to fathom the debate engulfing Washington on what is gingerly dubbed "regime change" in Iraq.
Why now, nearly a year after the most vicious attack on America ever, are leading experts loudly opposing any attack on Saddam Hussein to liberate Iraq and protect America?
Simply because a policy vacuum has recently emerged.
For months following Sept. 11, President Bush and his gifted national security team were crystal clear:
-- Foreign states are either with us or against us in the war on terrorism.
-- Saddam's relentless drive for nuclear weapons and chemical and ever-bigger biological weapons arsenals poses a dire threat to all civilized nations, especially America.
-- Time, as the president said clearly in his superb State of the Union Address last January, is not on our side. The longer we wait, the more danger mounts.
Well, we waited. And waited. The urgency dissipated. The warnings ceased. The administration muddled.
So into this vacuum tiptoed some Democrats. Most are wary of again being tagged as "soft" on national security, especially in this time of deep national anxiety. They recall -- and probably regret -- that the entire Democratic leadership in Congress voted against the Gulf War.
Devoid of such baggage, leading Republicans charged into the policy vacuum. In rapid fire, Sen. Chuck Hagel, House Majority Leader Dick Armey and ex-Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger voiced their concerns.
But none did so with the impact of ex-National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, practically an honorary Bush family member given his close personal ties to the senior President Bush.
His blast in last week's Wall Street Journal, "Don't Attack Saddam," was the most powerful attack on the administration, but it was also the most flawed.
I'll take on only the most egregious flaws of a terribly flawed argument.
Scowcroft asserts, "There is scant evidence to tie Saddam to terrorist organizations" and that "there is little evidence to indicate that the United States itself is an object of his aggression."
How about the 1994 Iraqi attempt to assassinate Mr. Scowcroft's dear friend, President George H.W. Bush? This is an undisputed fact, revealed by the Clinton administration before it launched cruise missiles to retaliate for the totally unprecedented attempt by a foreign government, Saddam Hussein's, to assassinate a former president of the United States. Isn't this "evidence" of both flagrant terrorism and that "the United States itself is an object of his aggression"?
And how about the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993? That bombing killed many innocent Americans and nearly brought down the towers then, which would have resulted in far more than 3,000 deaths. Iraqi involvement seems evident, especially since the terrorist mastermind fled, and perhaps even today lives, in Baghdad.
How about Saddam's current practice of bestowing gifts of $25,000 cash on the families of Palestinian homicide bombers, a huge amount of money in that society? Doesn't that link Saddam to terrorism? Isn't that "gift" an encouragement for young Palestinians to continue blowing up innocent Israelis and, two weeks ago, five young, innocent Americans in the cafeteria of Hebrew University?
Leaving aside Saddam's probable connection to Sept. 11 (which I've discussed in previous columns), these seem to be -- no, they are -- blatant terrorist acts affecting Americans.
Scowcroft spots two situations when attacking Saddam would be warranted. First, if Saddam refused inspection of a facility in Iraq, once he agreed to U.N. inspectors returning (which he's adamantly refused for the past four years).
This, indeed, is a strange argument. Saddam's refusing to allow inspectors into one building in Iraq "could provide the persuasive casus belli," for Scowcroft, but his refusing to have any inspectors at all in Iraq somehow does not.
Finally, Scowcroft says that "compelling evidence that Saddam had acquired nuclear-weapons capability" could warrant our attack.
Well, you needn't have been a national security advisor to wonder:
-- Is after Saddam flaunts having the bomb the best time to garner support from Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, and the Europeans?
-- Is that the best time to send American soldiers into harm's way on his borders or into his territory?
-- Is that really the best time to liberate Iraq by ousting Saddam Hussein?
Even a non-foreign policy wonk could grasp that it's smarter -- and far safer -- to free Iraq before the world's most destructive ruler acquires the world's most destructive weapon.
A policy vacuum allows such mind-bending arguments to gain currency, even respectability, in Washington. Today's lack of clear direction and determination by the Bush administration carries high costs and high dangers.
Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of TechCentralStation.com.