By most opinion surveys, the majority that supports the president’s resolve to invade Iraq has been shrinking. But were Saddam close to getting an atom bomb, four in five Americans would back a pre-emptive war.
Thus, the administration and the Brits last week have trumpeted a report by the International Institute of Strategic Studies on Iraq’s progress and got the headline they wanted in the London Evening Standard: “Saddam A-Bomb ‘Within Months'”
A look at that IISS report, however, suggests the Evening Standard is dishing up war propaganda as news. What does it say?
Saddam, almost surely, does not have an atom bomb. He lacks the enriched uranium or plutonium necessary to build one and would have to acquire fissile material from some other country. He is like a fellow who wants to cook rabbit stew in a country where there are no rabbits. And there is no evidence Saddam is in the market for enriched uranium or plutonium, or is even at work on a bomb.
However, if Saddam could acquire 40 pounds of enriched uranium, he could probably build a bomb of the explosive power of the “Big Boy” we dropped on Hiroshima. But even that is not certain. IISS conclusion: Saddam was closer to an atom bomb in 1991 than he is today. As for his chemical and biological weapons, Saddam’s arsenal was largely destroyed by 1998, though a five-year absence of U.N. inspectors has given him time to rebuild his stockpile.
Yet, even if Saddam has these dread weapons, can he deliver them? His decimated air force consists of a few hundred Russian and French planes, generations older than the latest U.S. models. Most of his missile force was shot off in the Gulf War or destroyed by U.S. bombs or U.N. inspectors. Iraq may retain a dozen al-Hussein missiles of 400-mile range. But America now has drones that can spot flaring rockets at lift-off and fire missiles to kill them in the boost phase.
In every military category, then, Saddam is weaker than when he invaded Kuwait. IISS’s conclusion: “Wait and the threat will grow. Strike and the threat may be used.”
What the International Institute of Strategic Studies is saying is: Saddam is probably beavering away on weapons of mass destruction. But a pre-emptive war could trigger the firing, upon U.S. troops, of the very weapons of mass destruction from which President Bush is trying to protect us.
How did we get here? In 1998, Clinton, anxious to distract our attention from a lady named Monica, ordered air strikes on Iraq. U.N. inspectors were pulled out. Thus, we know less now than we did in 1998 about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction.
And Bush’s bellicosity has probably convinced Libya, Syria, Iran and Iraq that their only safety from a U.S. “pre-emptive war” lies in a nuclear deterrent. If the “axis-of-evil” regimes we have been daily threatening are trolling petrodollars in desperation in front of the Russian Mafia to buy some second-hand Soviet nukes, would anyone be surprised?
Which begs the question: Has the Bush-Cheney shift in policy – asserting a U.S. right to launch pre-emptive war to deny weapons of mass destruction to U.S.-designated rogue regimes – created the most compelling of incentives for rogue regimes to acquire those weapons? Is the Bush-Cheney anti-proliferation policy the principal propellant of Islamic nuclear proliferation?
From hard evidence, what may we reasonably conclude? A) Saddam does not have an atom bomb or the critical component to build one, and is not known to be in the market for the uranium he would need. B) While he has chemical and biological weapons, his delivery systems have been degraded. C) He has had these toxins for 15 years and never once used them on U.S. forces, though we smashed his country, tried to kill him half a dozen times and have a CIA contract out on his head.
Why, if Saddam is a madman, has he not used gas or anthrax on us? Osama would – in a heartbeat. Probable answer: Saddam does not want himself, his sons, his legacy, his monuments, his dynasty, his army and his country obliterated and occupied by Americans, and himself entering the history books as the dumbest Arab of them all. Rational fear has deterred this supposedly irrational man. Has it not?
Why, then, is the United States, having lost 3,000 people in a terrorist atrocity by an al-Qaida network that is alive and anxious to kill thousands more, about to launch a new war on a country that even its neighbors – Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia – believe to be contained?
What is this obsession with Saddam Hussein?