Why Wait?

Critics cry "Why now?" A better question is "Why wait?"

Those wishing to liberate Iraq, uphold the United Nations’ integrity and preclude the specter of Saddam Hussein getting nuclear (on top of yet more chemical and biological) weapons lost momentum last summer.

Policy abhors a vacuum. After his glorious State of the Union address, President Bush went mum. Critics -- including long-forgotten Republican ex-office-holders -- grabbed the megaphone.

While momentum for action slid, dangers rose. In Iraq's newly "inspection-free zone," Saddam surely expanded his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Should a catastrophic attack on America occur and be traced back to Iraqi-made weapons, the Bush presidency would be tossed on the ash heap of history.

Why risk that? Why risk us? Have we learned nothing since Sept. 11?

Critics then ask, "Just what’s the cause for war?" Two-time presidential advisor Brent Scowcroft claimed that little less than "compelling evidence that Saddam had acquired nuclear-weapons capability" would constituted a causus belli.

Is it really smart to wait until after Saddam goes nuclear to entice other states to join in? Is that the ideal time for American troops to go in?

It would seem a lot smarter and safer to act before the world’s vilest ruler gets ahold of the world’s vilest weapon.

At least, critics go on, let’s use military as a last resort. Okay, but we’ve been there, done that. All non-military options have been tried, and failed, over more than a decade. Nothing can force Saddam from power but power.

That must be done, as Saddam Hussein constitutes the number one threat now facing America. While a terrorist network like Usama bin Laden's is horrible, a terrorist state like Saddam’s is even worse. For it has all the assets of a state -- billions of dollars in revenue, official labs churning out WMD galore, diplomatic immunity -- which wild men in Afghan caves can’t muster.

Terrorist states can thrive without terrorist networks. But terrorist networks can barely exist without terrorist states. To defeat them, deterrence no longer works and inspections never did. No form of deterrence could stop Saddam from secretly sharing, say, biological weapons with, say, al Qaeda operatives to attack us. Tracing that would be as nettlesome as tracing the anthrax attacks of last October. And as barren.

Besides, the destructive power of WMD changes past calculations. The first smoking gun may now be a mushroom cloud. To risk that is irresponsible. Fine, so re-institute inspections, the critics continue. That’s what is underway now. But relying on inspections to disarm Saddam smacks of what is said of second marriages -- a triumph of hope over experience.

Long hopeless, international inspections aren’t that good any longer. Khidhir Hamza --Saddam’s long-time top bombmaker, before defecting --  identified more than 400 nuclear sites in Iraq. Most are disguised as farmhouses or hidden in schools, hospitals and mosques. That doesn’t count the untold Iraqi installations making chemical weapons and its mobile labs concocting biological agents. Rather than a few thousand personnel, U.N. inspections would need an army to detect this expansive a covert program.

In that case, why not the real thing? The only inspectors I’d ever trust to disarm Iraq are the 101st Airborne Division. Short of that could conceivably be a massive U.N. inspection team, heavily-armed and legally-empowered to go anywhere at anytime. And -- ah, here’s the rub! -- to take Iraqi informers and their families out of Iraq to interrogate them on the whereabouts of all WMD facilities.

For Saddam to permit these conditions would indeed constitute regime change. The leopard would have changed his spots.

So America will soon "go it alone," critics chime in. Well, America alone was attacked on Sept. 11. And America alone would likely be attacked in the next Sept. 11, conceivably with WMD. The first obligation of the president and Congress is to protect America, regardless of how many abroad approve.

Yet many will approve -- starting with the Iraqi people. They’ll be cheering from their apartment rooftops, as at the onset of the Gulf War. Then they’ll be dancing in Baghdad streets, as did those liberated in Kabul. Britain, Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, Spain, Italy, Israel and many others will be with us. That number will grow as Bush’s resolve grows clear.

Remember that in 1990, the much-vaunted "international coalition" developed only after Bush, Sr. declared Saddam’s aggression "will not stand" and dispatched 540,000 American troops. We enlisted others precisely because we were willing to "go it alone."

Besides, when did "standing alone" become the big bugaboo? Our Founding Fathers proudly stood alone when creating the world’s only democracy in 1776. Winston Churchill proudly led Britain alone to resist the world’s past totalitarian tyrant. On July 14, 1940, Churchill proclaimed that Britain was fighting "by ourselves alone, but not for ourselves alone."

Likewise, President Bush today must fortify international law and the U.N.’s effectiveness "not for ourselves alone."

Finally comes the critics’ crunch question: Is war worth it? That evokes a "cost-benefit analysis." Friends in the administration publicly castigated me for claiming that the war would be a "cakewalk." They’re right, as that the phrase sounds too casual. War’s a grave matter, and I surely take it gravely. But the four factors leading to that conclusion still stand.

For starters, it was a cakewalk last time. Remember that gaggle of Iraqi troops trying to surrender to an Italian film crew? Not one U.S. tank was destroyed in the whole Gulf War. Our casualties were less than 2 percent theirs.

Since then, Iraqi forces have become much weaker. Its army is less than one-third its former size; its air force, never much to begin with, half its former size. With scant spare parts, weapons upgrades or operational exercises for a dozen years, it’s a shadow of its past shadow.

Third, U.S. forces have become much fiercer. In the Gulf War, less than 20 percent of our bombs were smart, and 80 percent dumb. In Afghanistan, we saw the reverse -- 80 percent smart, to devastating effect. Weapons such as unmanned predators armed with hellfire missiles, global hawk intelligence-gathering -- and many more now available to us -- didn’t even exist back then. They sure do now, with awesome results.

And fourth, now we’re playing for keeps. The removal of Saddam and his henchmen will be our initial goal. Then comes a single, integrated state with a popularly-chosen government which removes all WMD and their labs.

That’s the cost -- rather manageable. While the prospects of Saddam unleashing chemical or biological weapons, and of urban warfare in Baghdad, complicate the equation, they change none of the fundamentals. The benefit could be enormous -- protecting us, bolstering the U.N., and Iraq conceivably becoming the only prosperous, popularly-elected regime in Arabia.

The 22-membered Arab League now lacks any legitimate, freely-elected government. The last international gathering of entirely illegitimate regimes was the Warsaw Pact. Everyone saw that as merely a conclave of dictators.

Suppose "Iraq: The Rerun" ended not with America, but with Iraq, standing alone. Imagine Iraqis alone among their brethren with a decent, democratic government threatening no-one. That alone sounds worth it to me.

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.

Respond to the Writer