WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld continued to make the case against Saddam Hussein Wednesday, saying weapons inspectors will not be effective enough to achieve the goal of disarming Iraq.
"Weapons inspections do have a place if they can be sufficiently intrusive to disarm a country," Rumsfeld said, adding that with the many means Iraq has used to disguise its weapons program it is unlikely that a U.N. weapons inspection team would have much success.
"Even the most intrusive inspection regime would have difficulty getting at all of his weapons of mass destruction," he said.
Protesters interrupted the defense secretary as soon as he began to testify. A woman sitting only a few rows behind him stood up and started asking him if the goal was really getting oil and not preventing terrorism. She was joined by a second woman who chanted and held up banners saying "U.N. inspections, not war."
After the two were escorted out of the room, Rumsfeld recovered quickly, saying the ability of the individuals to get into the congressional hearing and demonstrate is an indication of the freedoms that U.S. citizens have -- something Iraqi citizens don't enjoy.
He said the protesters may want to keep in mind that Iraq threw out weapons inspectors, not the United States, and added that inspections are not the end of the road when it comes to dealing with Iraq.
"The goal isn't inspections, the goal is disarmament. That is what was agreed to" after the Gulf War, Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee. "You can only have inspections when a country is cooperating with you."
Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., ranking member of the committee, told Rumsfeld it is unfair to belittle the entire weapons inspections program since 1991, particularly when it did have many successes in the early years uncovering Saddam's biological weapons program.
Rumsfeld agreed that it wasn't a total loss, but added that the longer weapons inspectors were in Iraq, the more the Iraqi leadership learned how to disguise its weapons programs by tunneling deeper into the ground and adding more underground labs.
"Hundreds, not just two or three," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld did appear to have near universal support from the panel, including Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., who quoted his brother's favorite saying: "Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, shame on you."
"I am not quite sure what the hell 'fool me 16 times' means," McHugh said, referring to the 16 U.N. resolutions that Saddam has violated since 1990.
However, some concern from representatives arose over the ability to prevent U.S. troops from being exposed to biological weapons and the costly price of running an operation.
Rumsfeld's speech is a continuation of the diplomatic campaign to disarm Iraq and ultimately replace Saddam. The administration believes the United Nations must act quickly with the United States to stop Saddam from pursuing weapons of mass destruction.
Pentagon officials believe that Saddam has mobile chemical weapons labs that would easily escape detection and, for that reason, weapons inspectors are unlikely to do much good.
"If someone is waiting for a smoking gun, it is certain that they waited too long," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld was accompanied on Capitol Hill by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers.
Myers joined Rumsfeld in his assessment that Iraq has grown smarter in disguising its weapons program, calling Saddam "a master of deception" who was able to combine weapons labs with legitimate activities, like hospital operations, in order to easily convert its programs when inspectors came through.
"Inspectors could come in the front door and go out the back door with no evidence" of weapons development, Myers said.
According to the defense secretary, the reason that the Iraq situation has re-emerged as a priority issue comes from the fact that the margin of error for stopping rogue nations is smaller now that terror states are closer to gaining access to weapons of mass destruction.
He added that such states, by working in concert with terror groups, now have several opportunities to strike the United States.
"We are on notice. An attack very likely will be attempted. The only question is when and by what technique -- could be months, it could be a year, could be years, but it will happen," Rumsfeld said. "If it were to happen today, none of us would be able to say that it was a surprise."
The Pentagon is now set on giving U.S. Special Forces a leading role in the global war on terror.
The Special Operations Command based in Tampa, Fla., will be in charge of locating and rounding up Al Qaeda leaders, wherever they may be hiding.
It is unusual for Special Forces to take charge, since their role has traditionally been to support other commands.
Central Command, however, which has waged war in Afghanistan, will still have its hands full, even though Special Operations Command will take on a larger role. Iraq falls under Central Command's jurisdiction and its commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, has been busy working out a possible plan of attack against Saddam.
At the same time, the amphibious assault ship Belleau Wood is in Djibouti, across the Red Sea from Yemen. On board are Special Operations forces, along with CIA paramilitary troops, all poised for possible action against Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen.
Military sources say they are only waiting for what they call "actionable" intelligence before moving. Yemen is suspected of being a hotbed for terrorists ousted from Afghanistan, and is the home country of several recently-arrested terror suspects in New York.