LONDON -- Health problems have sidelined former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which is fine by the Tories, whose government representatives are in Johannesburg at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, blaming America for the problems of the poor.
The "Iron Lady," who warned the first President Bush not to "go wobbly" in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war, would be a useful voice to strengthen the spines of those reluctant to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The British press is full of editorials, columns and stories attacking President Bush for considering "going it alone" on Iraq (he'd be happy for the company of other nations if they'd come).
A cartoon last week in The Times of London depicts the president with the world on his back. The next panel shows a man with "Exxon" written on his back, tucking Mr. Bush under his arm and kicking the world aside.
Since Ms. Thatcher was pushed from the office of prime minister by a bunch of wimpy men who don't like strong women (especially strong conservative women) because she exposed their wimpishness, Britain has lost much of the leadership abilities it displayed during the Thatcher era.
British officials and the media are acting as if their negative input still matters in Mr. Bush's decision-making. They're reading reports of the recent, much-discussed opinion pieces in the U.S. press by former Secretary of State James Baker and former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, both of whom have urged the president to go slow on Iraq.
They are too late.
The strongest indication that a decision has been made to topple Mr. Hussein came Aug. 26 in a rare policy speech by Vice President Dick Cheney.
Speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Nashville, Tenn., Mr. Cheney had a message for those who wish to "contain" Iraq, as America, Britain and other nations contained the Soviet Union during the Cold War: "Containment is not possible, when dictators obtain weapons of mass destruction and are prepared to share them with terrorists, who intend to inflict catastrophic casualties on the United States."
Here was Mr. Cheney's rationale (and it must also be the president's, or Mr. Cheney would not have expressed it) for the coming liberation of Iraq. Terrorists do not operate in isolation. They are connected to states that harbor, train and fund their worldwide operations. Saddam Hussein is sharing, or he soon will share, weapons of mass destruction with terrorists, many of whom already dwell in Britain and America and who intend to use those weapons to kill thousands, perhaps millions of people in the name of their cause and god.
For those who are against a pre-emptive strike, the vice president seemed to be asking whether they would rather pay the price of a relatively few dead American soldiers -- as painful as that might be -- or hundreds of thousands of dead civilians in destroyed cities and a ruined economy.
How do we know Mr. Hussein is planning to acquire and use nuclear weapons? The vice president said Aug. 26 that we know from a number of sources and "from firsthand testimony from defectors, including Saddam's own son-in-law, who was subsequently murdered at Saddam's direction."
Mr. Cheney told a story that is a sharp rebuke to administration critics who think America can afford to wait: "Prior to the gulf war, America's top intelligence would come to my office in the Defense Department and tell me that Saddam Hussein is at least five or perhaps even 10 years away from having a nuclear weapon.
"After the war, we learned that he had been much closer than that, perhaps within a year of acquiring such a weapon. Saddam also devised an elaborate program to conceal his active efforts to build chemical and biological weapons, and one must keep in mind the history of U.N. inspection teams in Iraq.
"Even as they were conducting the most intrusive system of arms control in history, the inspectors missed a great deal. Before being barred from the country, the inspectors found and destroyed thousands of chemical weapons and hundreds of tons of mustard gas and other nerve agents. Yet Saddam Hussein had sought to frustrate and deceive them at every turn. And was often successful in doing so."
Mr. Cheney said that if all of Mr. Hussein's ambitions were realized, "the implications would be enormous for the Middle East and the United States and for the peace of the world."
That's why the decision has been made to liberate Iraq, and it is why the president is simply waiting until all the elements for success are in place.
Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun. He can be reached by mail at Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave, Suite 1500, Chicago, Ill. 60611 or via e-mail at www.calthomas.com.