Don't wait until a killer's at the door

October 16, 2002|By Cal Thomas

ARLINGTON, Va. -- President Bush has soberly and systematically laid out his case for why Iraq's Saddam Hussein must go.

In a speech Oct. 7, delivered to an audience in Cincinnati and carried only on the all-news cable channels (more about that in a moment), the president lifted the curtain on some of the intelligence information that has led him to oppose further delay in forcing Mr. Hussein to disarm. He said he believes delay is the riskiest of several options.

Calling Iraq's leader "a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction," the president said Mr. Hussein is developing an "arsenal of terror" with crude but effective delivery systems that include "a growing arsenal of unmanned aerial vehicles" (UAVs). He said such UAVs could carry anthrax or other biological and chemical agents over the United States and be easily flown or brought in by a terrorist or Iraqi intelligence officer.

Delivering his remarks in a somber tone, the president also addressed a few of the objections to war with Iraq made by some members of Congress and many editorial writers. To those who claim that Iraq and the war on terrorism are separate, the president said, "They are two faces of the same evil."

He said we must assume the worst about Mr. Hussein and that includes his pursuit of nuclear weapons. While the president left open the possibility there would be no military action, he said that Mr. Hussein would have to turn from his defiant and deceptive behavior of the last 11 years, a period that has seen him break every provision of the agreement ending the Persian Gulf war.

The president called Mr. Hussein a "student of Stalin" because of the way he liquidates all opposition and tortures anyone thought to be a threat to him.

Before a country goes to war, it must demonize its enemy sufficiently for soldiers to risk their lives and for its citizens to back the objective and tolerate possible loss of life for what they must see as self-defense and, if possible, a noble cause. The president sought to prepare the nation to pursue each of those goals.

The broadcast networks, which refused to carry the address live, again exposed their political leanings. Network executives said the White House didn't formally ask for airtime, but given the threat, ABCCBSNBC (all the networks think alike) should have carried the address. One unnamed broadcast network spokesman told The Washington Post, "It's a pep rally. They're trying to move Congress forward."

When war seems imminent, the broadcast networks -- which still reach more people than cable -- have a responsibility to let the president make his case and inform the public of his rationale for war. They failed in that responsibility, and their level of trust, already in decline, will likely drop further as more people sense a political bias behind the decision to air entertainment programs over the president's important address.

Writing in the Oct. 5 issue of National Journal, Stuart Taylor Jr. correctly says, "The Bush pre-emption doctrine is not an abandonment of our traditional strategy of deterrence. It is a necessary updating of that strategy to meet the new kind of nuclear threat posed by terrorists and rogue regimes."

Precisely! The old ways of agreements and inspections no longer work. The president has said this new warfare will require new strategies and so pre-emption in limited and specific instances is necessary against Mr. Hussein.

Delaying action against Mr. Hussein is like waiting for a killer to knock at the door. It is more difficult to stop him when he knocks at (or breaks down) the door than if he had been stopped several miles away. The kind of harm Mr. Hussein can deliver will take thousands of American lives if we wait. Never has the strategy of getting our enemy before he gets us looked more defensible -- or more urgent.

Cal Thomas' syndicated column appears Wednesdays in The Sun. He can be reached via e-mail at

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