How he must laugh, to see us tiptoe so gingerly around his threats and ultimatums.
“It has been more than 6-1/2 years since Operation Desert Storm,” Saddam Hussein must think, “and still I can jerk them up and down like marionettes. I can announce that U.S. citizens will be barred from U.N. weapons inspection teams - and they do nothing about it. I can threaten to shoot down American U-2 spy planes - and they do nothing about it. I can brazenly disable the inspectors’ surveillance equipment; I can make the United Nations dance attendance on me in Baghdad; I can force everyone to wait while I send my deputy to negotiate in New York - and they do nothing about it.”
Saddam must find our timidity hilarious. He is supposed to be the humiliated loser of the Gulf War, yet we still allow him to rule in Iraq. Gen. Colin Powell boasted that he would cut off and then kill Saddam’s army, but under the world’s nose, the Republican Guards have been rebuilt into a vicious fighting force.
From the moment the fighting stopped in 1991, Saddam has flouted the cease-fire conditions imposed by the U.S.-led alliance. He has slaughtered Kurds in the north and Shi’ites in the south. He has been caught illegally importing military helicopters and breaching the U.N. “no-fly” zones. And the West’s response? Except for the odd pinprick missile strike and a lot of hot air, nothing.
Six-and-a-half years after the Gulf War, Saddam is again the most powerful despot in his region. No one threatens him inside Iraq; those who even think about it have a way of ending up dead. The coalition that made war against him has fractured. Economic sanctions have accomplished little more than the death of Iraqi children - useful, from his perspective, as a propaganda tool, but otherwise unimportant.
What is important to Saddam are his biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. With these he intends to seize even more power, reoccupy Kuwait, dominate Saudi Arabia, “make fire eat up half of Israel” and avenge himself on the United States. And we Americans - oh, he must guffaw every time he thinks of it - are letting him get away with it.
His stockpile of deadly anthrax and botulinum spores, enough to depopulate a major city, is intact. According to Richard Butler, head of the U.N. special commission in Iraq, Saddam’s sudden demand that Americans be barred from the weapons teams came just as U.N. inspectors were about to reveal 750 tons of VX components. (VX is a nerve gas more powerful than Sarin. If released in a vapor over a densely settled area, casualties could number in the millions.)
As for nuclear weapons: Saddam hungrily pursued them before Desert Storm, and he hungrily pursues them today. With one difference - the collapse of the Soviet Union has made nuclear weapons materiel more readily available today than they used to be.
We wouldn’t unleash such horrors, so we want to believe no one would. But Saddam is not like us. The man is a sociopath. He has hanged innocent victims by the thousands and had political critics literally chopped into pieces. He plunged his country into a pointless war with Iran, sending hundreds of thousands of people to a violent death.
Of what use are tough words and stiffer economic sanctions in dealing with such a creature? He rules by torture and terror, and knows nothing of conscience. In 1988, he gassed the population of Halabjah. Death toll: 5,000. In a report nearly a decade ago on his savagery against the Kurds, the London Observer noted this detail: “57 boxes were returned recently to the Kurdish city of Sulemaniya … by the Iraqi government authorities. Each box contained a dead child, eyes gouged out and ashen white.”
There is no “if” about Saddam’s evil regime. There is only a “where” - where are his instruments of mass destruction? At this late date, only a fool or a State Department functionary can imagine that Security Council negotiations or halfhearted bombing runs are going to convince Saddam to relinquish his unconventional weapons.
He is an unstoppable butcher who will cease being a menace only when he is dead. Every hour that he breathes is one hour closer to the moment when Scud missiles disperse anthrax over Riyadh - or a nuclear warhead explodes in Tel Aviv - or VX gas seeps through the Washington subway.
No disrespect to the UN weapons inspectors, but the time for “inspecting” is over. Security Council Resolution 687 obligated Saddam to disclose all his illegal weapons programs no later than April 18, 1991. That is only one of many cease-fire provisions he has flagrantly violated. Under international law, the cease-fire is no longer binding. Desert Storm is not over. We have every right and every reason to re-enter Iraq and liberate it from Saddam’s grip.
President Bush called Saddam “worse than Hitler,” but the Iraqi Hitler lives on. The longer we wait to extirpate his regime, the more deadly it will become. Saddam and his clique should have been destroyed in 1991. It is not too late to finish the job now. But it soon may be.
Resuming the war against Iraq would be difficult. It would take leadership, nerve, and a willingness to accept tremendous political risk. Those are qualities President Clinton is not known for. That is probably what Saddam, chuckling in his Baghdad bunker, is counting on.