It should now be clear to everyone that Saddam’s war plan was fade to black, then conduct a guerilla war from the shadows of Baghdad. It was a sensible strategy when confronted with the overwhelming force of the United States military.

War is generally settled when one party breaks the will or ability of the other to resist. Iraqi terrorists or Saddam loyalists cannot break America’s ability to resist, even when aided by the members of one political party back here at home. Terrorists can, however, destroy our will to resist – and that is the path they have chosen. America must now respond. We are no longer in occupation mode – the enemy has reasserted itself and renewed the conflict on his own terms. To continue playing his game is folly.

How we respond now matters. What plays out in Iraq will define how the rest of the Arab and Muslim world respond to America in the years ahead. If we are seen as weak, we will suffer death from a thousand cuts. If we are seen as strong – having given evidence of possessing the will to use our strength – the world has a chance at peace for another generation. Barring such decisiveness, the world has likely less than five years until nuclear weapons fall into terrorist hands. We do well to remember their demands are not for negotiations, but capitulation and a Muslim society.

Symbolism has always been a part of war. Remember, we are dealing here with people living in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. Theirs is a world of kings who serve by divine appointment. And we have made a fatal error: We have left the trappings of king Saddam’s power on display all across Iraq.

This mistake is easily and quickly rectified. Tekrit is Saddam’s home town. It is also home to one of the largest presidential palaces in Iraq. The palace should be immediately destroyed. Saddam loyalists should be rounded up and forced to carry the rubble out of town on their backs and bury it outside the city. This will serve at least two purposes. First, it will demoralize Saddam’s henchmen. Second, it will help the people of Iraq, even those in Tekrit, to understand that Saddam is never coming back into power. Not ever. In the meantime, Tekrit should be combed for Saddam loyalists. These names will be available from captured Iraqi intelligence files. Begin the roundups and detentions. They can never be set free.

Baghdad also has its share of Saddam loyalists who need to be addressed. It, too, has a presidential palace. The palace should be leveled immediately, for the same reasons the one in Tekrit was leveled. Saddam’s loyalists need to understand they are never returning to their former splendor. They need to be humiliated by carrying away the rubble of their reign on their backs. Symbolism matters in the medieval world.

Baghdad has a number of other attractive psychological targets we can exploit:

  • Destroy the monument to the Unknown Soldier.

  • Convert the military parade ground to a charitable project, or open it to Christian missionaries.

  • Destroy the Grand Saddam Mosque, currently under construction. It’s probably where the weapons are hidden, anyway.

  • Destroy any mosque found to contain even a single weapon. Don’t close it, completely level it. Taking up arms against America must exact immediate and severe consequences.

  • Finally, do not harm the national parliament building. This must become the seat of the new government, if a democracy is to take root.

Some may object to this level of violence. Israel, they will point out, has been responding with violence to Palestinian terrorism for years, and the conflict now is deadlier than ever. But the fact is, Israel has been prevented by world opinion and the United States from responding with the level of violence necessary to end terrorism. Now the world has reaped its reward.

Here at home, we must expand the clandestine war. This is done by following through on the intelligence gathered from money laundering and other criminal investigations conducted by Homeland Security and the police. Except in the case of American citizens, it is counterproductive to treat these as criminal justice matters. We are at war: Once terrorist sympathizers are identified, covert action must be taken against them and the monied interests they rely upon. These actions – both the successes and failures – are better left unpublicized.

As I pointed out earlier, Saddam’s loyalists can never go free. Tens of thousands of people worked for the regime, and their execution can be timed to demonstrate retribution for the death of each American soldier. A ratio of a hundred Iraqi Stassi executed for each American soldier killed would seem a reasonable starting point.

Is this heartless? Yes. Is it an escalation of the violence? Absolutely. My only question to those who disagree is, over what length of time should we spread the deaths that will occur on each side to make you feel better? One year? Five years? 25 years? For the rest of your children’s and grandchildren’s lifetimes? How many lives – American and Arab – is your squeamishness worth?

Will you be there to help clean up the dead when the first terrorist nuclear weapon is detonated in a major American city? Or would you prefer that the will of the terrorists to continue be broken now?

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