President George W. Bush has announced a new approach to defeat those who try to acquire the ultimate weapons of mass destruction (WMD)?chemical, biological and nuclear warheads. No longer will the United States wait for arms control schemes to fail, wait for efforts to “buy” compliance with international obligations to fail, wait until rogue states or terrorist organizations complete their preparations to use these weapons against us or our allies, or wait until a thug like Saddam Hussein has his “finger on the trigger.” Bush is right to conclude that the WMD threat is without precedent, and old policies, like deterrence and containment, are irrelevant when confronted with the likes of Saddam or Osama bin Laden. We must be willing and ready to use military force to “preempt” states intent on employing these weapons or sharing them with the likes of al Qaeda.
Not surprisingly, this more muscular policy has made some “opinion makers” queasy. The New York Times’ opposition to war on Iraq becomes more pronounced daily. So its editors must have been delighted to hear “leading Republicans,” like former National Security Adviser
Brent Scrowcroft and Senators Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar urging caution and prudence on the White House. The Democrats have wisely gone silent, content to let these establishment Republicans make their case for inaction on Iraq.
“Our European allies aren’t on board.” “War on Iraq would destabilize the Middle East.” “Our Arab friends wouldn’t understand taking on Iraq before we have settled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” and on and on. The most fatuous reason: “we should give United Nations’ inspections just one more chance.” Let Saddam know that this is his last opportunity to comply with UN resolutions to destroy, remove or render harmless Iraq’s WMD, really. These foreign policy “experts” must have been living in a cave for the past ten years. Why would Saddam cease his shell games to hide his WMD capabilities, when his policies of obstructionism have worked so well. Thanks in no small measure to our “allies,” the Russians and the French.
The history of those inspections should give “the experts” pause. Before the Gulf War, we didn’t know that Iraq was only about six months away from producing a crude nuclear device, according to Richard Butler, the last chief of the UN inspection team. We didn’t learn until 1995 that Iraq had produced VX, one of the deadliest chemical warfare agents, or until 1998 that it had “weaponized” VX. We didn’t know that Iraq had filled warheads with anthrax. We still don’t know what happened to several tons of SCUD missile propellant and, beyond its admissions about anthrax, Iraq’s biological weapons program is a “black hole.”
The CIA believes that Saddam has used the four years since inspectors were kicked out of Iraq to reconstitute his chemical weapons program. Contrary to his UN obligations, Saddam has continued to develop the means of delivery for these weapons, including converting a jet trainer, the L-29, to an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). We didn’t know that Saddam had 1,800 scientists and engineers working in his nuclear program. Now we don’t know whether he has managed to procure nuclear materials from Russia. Pleas to give inspections just one more chance seem almost feckless.
A fallback for Senator Lugar and others is to claim that the President hasn’t yet “made his case to the American people.” The herd mentality of the national media has picked up this refrain and repeated it endlessly. Maybe they haven’t been paying attention. The President’s speech at West Point in June laid out a radically new and different approach to confronting the threat of terrorism and WMD. After a decade of the “let’s pretend” policies of Clinton, this President has acknowledged the hard reality of coping with these threats: “We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best.” He went on to say, “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, then we have waited too long.” Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld have all contributed to “making the case.” The main problem seems to be, as William Kristol has said, Bush’s opponents just don’t like the case.
We have already tried “hoping for the best.” Bill Clinton tried all the usual arms control approaches to stopping proliferation. He even resorted to pinprick cruise missile attacks on suspected Iraqi WMD facilities in Operation Desert Fox. That approach failed utterly and left the threat much greater than before.