TCS Daily

Policy Abhors a Vacuum

By Ken Adelman - August 21, 2002 12:00 AM

Policy, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

That's an adage I just concocted to fathom the debate engulfing Washington on what's gingerly-dubbed "regime change" in Iraq.

Why now - nearly a year after the most vicious attack on America ever - are leading experts loudly opposing any attack on Saddam Hussein to liberate Iraq and protect America? Simply because a policy vacuum has recently emerged.

For months following 9/11, President Bush and his gifted national security team were crystal clear:

  • Foreign states are either with us or against us in the war on terrorism.
  • Saddam's relentless drive for nuclear weapons and chemical and ever-bigger biological weapons arsenals pose a dire threat to all civilized nations, especially America.
  • Time -- the President said clearly in his superb State of the Union Address last January - is as not on our side. The longer we wait, the more danger mounts.

Well, we waited. And waited. The urgency dissipated. The warnings ceased. The Administration muddled.

So into this vacuum tiptoed some Democrats. Most are wary of again being tagged as "soft" on national security, especially in this time of deep national anxiety. They recall -- and probably regret -- that the entire Democratic leadership in Congress voted against the Gulf War.

Devoid of such baggage, leading Republicans charged into the policy vacuum. Senator Chuck Hagel, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and ex-Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger in rapid fire voiced their concerns.

But none with the impact of ex-National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, practically an honorary Bush family member, given his close personal ties to President Bush, 41.

His blast in last week's Wall Street Journal, "Don't Attack Saddam," albeit the most powerful, was the most flawed.

I'll take on only the most egregious flaws of a terribly flawed argument.

Scowcroft asserts, "There is scant evidence to tie Saddam to terrorist organizations" and again that "there is little evidence to indicate that the United States itself is an object of his aggression."

How 'bout the 1994 Iraqi attempt to assassinate Mr. Scowcroft's dear friend, President George H.W. Bush? This is an undisputed fact, revealed by the Clinton Administration before it launched cruise missiles to retaliate for the totally unprecedented attempt by a foreign government, Saddam Hussein's, to assassinate a former President of the United States. Isn't this "evidence" of both flagrant terrorism and that "the United States itself is an object of his aggression"?

And how 'bout the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993? That bombing killed many innocent Americans. And it nearly brought down the towers then, resulting in far more than 3,000 deaths. Iraqi involvement seems evident, especially since the terrorist mastermind fled, and perhaps even today lives, in Baghdad.

How 'bout Saddam now bestowing on the families of Palestinian homicide bombers some $25,000, a huge amount in that society? Doesn't that link Saddam to terrorism? Isn't that "gift" an encouragement for constantly blowing up innocent Israelis and, two weeks ago, five young, innocent Americans in the cafeteria of Hebrew University?

Leaving aside Saddam's probable connection to 9/11 (which I've discussed in previous columns), these seem to be - no, they are - blatant terrorist acts affecting Americans.

Scowcroft spots two situations when attacking Saddam would be warranted. First, if Saddam refused inspection of a facility in Iraq, once he agreed to U.N. inspectors returning (which he's adamantly refused for the past four years).

This, indeed, is a strange argument. Saddam's refusing to allow inspectors into one building in Iraq "could provide the persuasive casus belli," for Scowcroft, but his refusing to have any inspectors in Iraq at all somehow does not.

Come again?

Finally, Scowcroft says that "compelling evidence that Saddam had acquired nuclear-weapons capability" could warrant our attack.

Well, you needn't have been a national security advisor to wonder:

  • Is that the best time - after Saddam flaunts having the bomb -- to garner support from Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, and the Europeans?'
  • Is that the best time to send American soldiers in harm's way on his borders, or into his territory?
  • Is that really the best time to liberate Iraq, by ousting Saddam Hussein?

Even a non-foreign policy wonk could grasp that it's smarter -- and far safer -- to free Iraq before the world's most destructive ruler acquires the world's most destructive weapon.

A policy vacuum allows such mind-bending arguments to gain currency, even respectability, in Washington. Today's lack of clear direction and determination by the Bush Administration carries high costs and high dangers.



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