Outside view: More than a game of chicken?

By ROBERT L. MAGINNIS, A UPI Outside View commentary  |  Aug. 25, 2002 at 7:56 AM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- The United States and Iraq are like two cars facing off at the opposite ends of a long road, engines at full throttle and both drivers ready to play a dangerous game of chicken. Will either driver swerve before the inevitable clash?

During his State of the Union speech, President George W. Bush put Iraq on notice, labeling it part of an "axis of evil." The rhetoric has grown more robust since then. Recently, the president's national security team has focused on building the case for an Iraqi regime change to Americans and to U.S. allies.

Vice President Dick Cheney said a pre-emptive strike to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is possible. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, standing in the Pentagon's bully pulpit, daily expounds on the Iraqi threat.

Recently, Rumsfeld announced that Iraq has mobile biological labs and may have buried many of its weapons deep under civilian buildings such as mosques. He also indicated that new information exists about Saddam's weapons programs and links with the terrorist network al Qaida.

Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, sounds the charge by describing Saddam as "an evil man who, left to his own devices, will wreak havoc again on his own population, his neighbors and, if he gets weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them, on all of us. ... We certainly do not have the luxury of doing nothing."

Not all Republicans are convinced that now is the time to oust Saddam, however.

Former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, who served in the Ford and first Bush administrations warned, "An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counter-terrorist campaign we have undertaken." Scowcroft agrees that Saddam must be removed, just not now.

Lawrence Eagleburger, secretary of state under the first President Bush, said that unless Saddam "has his hand on a trigger that is for a weapon of mass destruction, and our intelligence is clear, I don't know why we have to do it now, when all our allies are opposed to it."

Former Nixon/Ford Secretary of State Henry Kissinger cautions, "Military intervention should be attempted only if we are willing to sustain such an effort for however long it is needed."

Kissinger says the challenge is to build a careful case that the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction calls for creation of a new international security framework. In that framework, pre-emptive action may sometimes be justified. This is certainly not the total repudiation of Bush that has been described by The New York Times and others.

Nevertheless, Bush has a lot of persuading to do.

As the administration mounts its public education campaign, and continues -- as it did last week with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder -- to "clarify" the support of allies, there is considerable evidence that the Pentagon is sharpening its knives for war.

The Pentagon has almost replenished stocks of sophisticated weapons expended in Afghanistan. Soon, 15,000 newly minted and highly accurate Joint Direct Attack Munitions will be available for bombing runs by B-52 aircraft.

Production of the latest Patriot anti-missile systems was accelerated. Two ships laden with fighting vehicles are now moving toward the Gulf region. Thousands of American troops, with more on the way, are dusting off warehoused equipment, preparing for war.

Construction work is almost completed at the U.S. air base in Qatar. Most of the command and control equipment for running a sophisticated air war has been transferred from Saudi Arabia, which has denied use of the ultra-modern Prince Sultan Air Base for a campaign against Iraq.

Additionally, two airfields in Kurdish northern Iraq are nearing completion of U.S.-funded upgrades.

Meanwhile, U.S. and British troops are conducting desert operations training. Special Forces teams and the CIA are working with resistance groups behind the scenes.

The administration has hosted meetings with Iraqi resistance fighters and exile groups, promising support but providing no details about when and how it will seek to take down Hussein -- though one thing is clear: Cheney promised to protect these groups from Saddam's use of weapons of mass destruction.

Even our ally Israel hears the drum roll of war. It expects to be targeted by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction; it has announced plans to issue radiation-fighting potassium iodide pills, smallpox vaccinations, and to upgrade gas masks. Israel also recently fielded the second battery of its Arrow anti-missile systems. During the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq fired 39 conventionally armed Scud missiles at Israel.

Saddam, too, is leaning forward in his foxhole preparing for war. Recently, satellites spied the Iraqi military shifting equipment to hiding places across that Texas-sized country.

Billions of dollars from illegal oil sales have been spent on spare parts for tanks, fighters and dual-use technologies likely destined for secret labs making poison gases and deadly biological toxins, like the most poisonous substance known: clostridium botulinum toxin, "a single gram of which could in theory kill more than 1 million people," says Science Magazine.

Saddam's nuclear program is on track with steady black-market money for uranium enrichment equipment. Qusay Hussein, Saddam's son, reportedly offered to buy long-range ballistic missiles from Iran, no doubt for launching deadly warheads in the coming war.

Yes, Saddam has pulled out all stops to either prevent an attack or at least to slow the assault. Of course, for Saddam, no attack is victory because that would be perceived in the Arab world as a sign of his strength and U.S. weakness.

Alternatively, if the United States attacks and becomes bogged down or inflicts many civilian casualties, then he has a chance to survive. That, too, would be a victory much like the outcome of the 1991 war.

Bush has pledged to continue to consult with Congress and allies, saying, "It's a healthy debate for people to express their opinion."

At the same time, however, the president said, "America needs to know I'll be making up my mind based upon the latest intelligence and how best to protect our own country plus our friends and allies."


Robert L. Maginnis is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who is a frequent analyst for many television and radio networks. He is also a vice president for the Washington-based Family Research Council.

"Outside View" commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in a variety of important global issues.

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