Amid speculation that President Bush is reconsidering what will constitute "regime change in Iraq," one thing should be clear: Saddam Hussein's willingness to "change" his attitude towards permitting the resumption of intrusive on-site U.N. weapons inspections will not, in fact, eliminate the danger posed by him and his ruling clique.
Indeed, what would be, at best, an ephemeral attitudinal adjustment on Saddam's part would probably not even diminish meaningfully the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. After all, were Saddam -- against all odds and past practice -- actually to cooperate with the U.N. inspectors and assist in the complete elimination of his chemical and biological arsenals, he could resume covertly stockpiling them again in as little as six-months time.
That period could be still shorter if he were to be rewarded for his "cooperation" by the elimination of international economic and trade sanctions against Iraq.
A news item published in the London Evening Standard last Monday provides, however, an important reminder of why the United States cannot safely accept any substitute for the toppling of Saddam's regime.
Specifically, it summarizes evidence implicating Saddam Hussein in one or more deadly acts of terror against the United States, specifically the Oklahoma City bombing.
The Standard article draws on investigative reporting and forensic analysis into the Oklahoma City bombing performed over the past seven years by an intrepid and tenacious former TV journalist, Jayna Davis. She offers compelling, if circumstantial, indications that Iraqi operatives helped to plot, prepare and execute murderous attacks in Oklahoma City (and perhaps against other targets in the United States).
For example, Ms. Davis has identified a man whose photo matches that of a "John Doe #2" sought immediately after the Murrah Building attack. He appears to be a Palestinian by the name of Hussain Hashem Al Hussaini, who sported a tatoo suggesting he had served in Saddam's elite Republican Guard.
According to Davis' evidence, witnesses put Al Hussaini in the company of confessed bomber Timothy McVeigh a few days before the attack and near the site immediately beforehand. Ms. Davis has also found witnesses who say McVeigh and his convicted co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, had consorted with former Iraqi soldiers. Some of these former soldiers worked for a Palestinian who owned a truck very like one sought after the attack. These soldiers reportedly were absent from work on the day of the bombing and were seen celebrating after it occurred. It strains credulity that all of these dots are not connected.
What is more, Ms. Davis' evidence appears consistent with findings by another investigator, Dr. Laurie Mylroie, who has devoted years of effort to the pursuit of Iraqi connections to the earlier World Trade Center bombing. Like Ms. Davis, Dr. Mylroie concludes that Saddam's modus operandi is to employ cut-outs to cover his tracks.
According to this thesis, the first attempt aimed at destroying the Twin Towers was not exclusively accomplished by followers of a blind Egyptian sheik with ties to Iran. This conclusion was actually a bonus for Hussein, because it vectored blame at Iran, his most formidable enemy and neighbor. Similarly, Oklahoma City was not, as prosecutors claimed, simply the homegrown handiwork of two violently disaffected U.S. citizens.
And Sept. 11 was not the product solely of Usama bin Laden's al Qaeda network. In each of these cases, there is reason to believe that Saddam Hussein and his minions played some role in the murder of Americans.
To be sure, it is not exactly news that Ms. Davis has concluded that Iraqi operatives were involved in Oklahoma City. What is news is that, according to the Evening Standard, the Bush Justice Department has apparently, finally begun to take a serious interest in Ms. Davis' evidence.
Such evidence simply serves strongly to reinforce a reality of which President Bush has long and repeatedly warned: We will enjoy no relief from Saddam's predations unless and until he and his ilk are removed from power in Iraq.
The memory of those Americans who have already been murdered by the Butcher of Baghdad and his co-conspirators will be besmirched -- and the fate of untold numbers of their countrymen recklessly jeopardized -- if a temporary adjustment to Saddam's behavior on inspections were to be confused with, and allowed to substitute for, the needed elimination of his regime.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. He is currently president of the Center for Security Policy.