"Don't Attack Saddam," Brent Scowcroft implored President George W. Bush in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.
But, for the sake of America's war on terror, the retired general should review a primary lesson the United States was dealt by the attacks on 9-11. America learned the hard way then that waiting to use what Scowcroft calls the "best strategy and tactics" to remove a global threat is ill advised.
Saddam Husayn poses no less of a threat to American and global security than Osama bin Laden, yet for more than a decade, Washington has jockeyed and yammered for the right moment, the right place, the right opportunity to depose him. The time for prevarication has passed. The time to attack is now. Saddam must be overthrown, and soon.
Here are two main holes in Scowcroft's argument:
• Saddam only seeks weapons of mass destruction (WMD), he says, to "deter [America] from intervening to block his aggressive designs" and will not use them. Whence does he get such an idea? Saddam assuredly will use them if circumstances make this useful to him.
For a start, note that he is the only ruler in power today who actually has deployed WMD, and he has done so often. During the 1980-1988 war with Iran, he showered chemical gases on Iranian soldiers. He also turned chemicals on his own Kurdish population.
Further, Saddam is obsessed with building WMD. On losing the Kuwait war in February 1991, he agreed to U.N. demands that his WMD be "destroyed, removed or rendered harmless." He also acquiesced to demands that inspectors be allowed into Iraq to ensure that his WMD program did not start again. Over the next seven years, however, he did everything in his power to build chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, plus the missiles with which to deliver them. In 1998, Saddam refused to allow U.N. inspectors into Iraq any longer.
It would be, notes Richard Butler, former chief U.N. weapons inspector, "foolish in the extreme" to believe that Saddam has not been rebuilding his arsenal since then. Saddam's media confirms this point. The Iraqi Ath-Thawra newspaper stated recently stated that "possessing such weapons constitutes a right of self-defense and a necessity of national security, whether anyone likes it or not."
According to reports from Iraqi defectors in December 2001 and March 2002, Saddam now has "mobile germ laboratories disguised as milk delivery trucks, and a network of underground bunkers for chemical and biological weapons production."
In a yet more worrisome development, Khidhir Hamza, former head of Saddam's nuclear weapons development program and another defector from Iraq, estimates Saddam will need two to three years "to get the fissile material program going" for nuclear weapons production. "The bomb design and hardening," he says, "will probably take another year."
Thus, Saddam will likely have gone nuclear by 2006, and one must count on his using them. This prospect makes a preemptive attack soon not only advisable but urgent.
• Scowcroft holds "there is little evidence to indicate that the United States itself is an object of [Saddam's] aggression," making it highly unlikely that America would fall victim to Saddam.
Actually, Iraq's media regularly calls for military and economic assaults on "the tyrannical U.S. enemy." Recently, Saddam announced a one-month oil export suspension designed to "directly deprive the U.S." A recent Iraqi government statement even called for "striking at U.S. interests in the Arab homeland." (Note that this rhetoric is strikingly similar to that of al-Qa'ida and other international terrorists whom Mr. Scowcroft claims "have little in common" with Saddam.)
Saddam and other international terrorists have something else in common: links to a number of plots against America. In 1993, Saddam's agents tried to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush. According to a report in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, Iraq also "planned to attack American ships in the Arabian Gulf [Persian Gulf] at the beginning of 2001. The plan was to load half a ton of explosives aboard a commercial ship operated by a crew of suicide sailors."
Iraq has other links to terrorism against the United States. Czech intelligence officials now say they have a photo of Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, meeting with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague. Two of his co-conspirators were also said to have met with Iraqi intelligence officers in the United Arab Emirates, while Bin Laden aides reportedly met with officials in Baghdad.
Brent Scowcroft is on target when he states that "if we are truly serious about the war on terrorism, it must remain our top priority." Rightly understood, however, that means beginning with the elimination of Saddam's regime, with its many ties to global terrorism, war crimes, and the attacks of last fall.