Since when did Hussein become such a U.S. threat?

October 08, 2002|By SUSAN REIMER

I FEEL like I have wakened from a long sleep to find that war against Iraq is a certainty.

Troops and armaments are already on their way to the Persian Gulf. Permission slips are before Congress and the United Nations, ready to be back-dated and rubber-stamped.

And I am feeling like Rip Van Winkle.

Where was I when Saddam Hussein replaced Osama bin Laden as the greatest threat to the United States?

Did I miss the news that day? Something changed between last Sept. 11 and this Sept 11, and, for the life of me, I can't figure out what.

Saddam Hussein has been a back-burner irritant for more than a decade. Did I miss the headlines? Did he suddenly score the missing ingredients of his weapons of mass destruction?

What is different now?

President Bush, who pressed his case again in his speech last night, has said that bin Laden and Hussein are "equally as bad, equally as evil and equally as destructive." That may be true, but they are not the same or even alike.

One is a greedy and corrupt despot who will do anything to maintain his seat of power. The other is an ascetic, nomadic, religious terrorist who, in fact, finds Hussein's secular regime and his persecution of Islam as evil as he does America.

Both bin Laden and Hussein despise the United States, but Hussein should fear bin Laden as much as we do.

I might agree with this new urgency to change our focus from one to the other if someone would tell me its cause.

Hussein has made no overt threats to the United States in the last decade. There is no credible evidence tying him to Sept. 11.

There is no new evidence that he has weapons of mass destruction or that he can deliver them outside his borders. And it is unlikely that the trapped and embargoed Hussein would hand off weapons of mass destruction to the mobile and elusive bin Laden because those weapons might come right back at him.

At its best, the case against Iraq is circumstantial. Why, when we have not finished off bin Laden, is it suddenly so urgent for us to depose Hussein? Is the Bush administration trying to distract us from the failure of the war on terrorism to do more than round up a handful of guys in Buffalo and Portland?

We've been told that "the clock is ticking," but the American people have no idea what set it ticking.

All we have right now is the Bush administration's Johnnie Cochran, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, arguing mightily in the court of U.S. and world opinion that it is legal and time for us to take pre-emptive military action against a sovereign country and remove its head - action we would never tolerate from the Soviets or the Chinese.

Iraq has been an issue for a decade, but in the last few months it has become this country's top priority. Why? Where is the synapse? Where is the link?

We are told that removing Hussein is the first step in a grand plan to reform and stabilize a region. But when the president tells a Houston audience, "This is a guy who tried to kill my dad," it sounds like we are settling old scores.

If the lesson of 9/11 is that Americans are vulnerable even on American soil, then I begin to understand that we cannot wait to see what Saddam Hussein does next.

If the lesson of 9/11 is that the United States cannot guarantee the safety of its citizens inside its borders, and therefore cannot allow rogue nations to acquire weapons any more potent than a slingshot, then that is the case the administration should make to us and to the world.

Instead of trying to convince us that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have joined forces, or that one is a more urgent threat than the other, the president should tell the American people the truth:

That we have learned that the only way to protect ourselves against an enemy is to behead him before he can raise his fist.

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