President Bush speaks at every opportunity of the need for a "regime change" in Iraq, one of the triumvirate in his axis of evil, but he has yet to make the case for U.S. military action to remove Saddam Hussein. Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee launched a much-needed inquiry into that topic, raising the question not just of how Hussein could be toppled but, more important, what sort of regime might follow.
From the day U.N. weapons inspectors entered Iraq after the Gulf War, the Baghdad government tried to hide its stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and its nuclear weapons technology. Yet the investigators found and destroyed biological weapons factories and large quantities of chemical weapons, a major reason Baghdad has refused entry to any inspectors since 1998 in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Iraq is a regional threat, but how great a danger it poses to the United States, or the world, now and in the future is the key question.
The committee chairman, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., said the Bush administration supported the hearings, although it did not want to participate yet. Eventually it must. If the administration does decide to go forward, it should seek a congressional resolution of support, as President Bush's father did after Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last week said he doubted that inspectors would find everything if they were readmitted to Iraq. That may be true, but pressing for their admission should be the administration's top priority.
Aside from Britain's lukewarm support for a new military campaign, Washington has no public backing from other countries. The U.S. case would be stronger if it went the last mile to push for inspectors. Last week, Baghdad invited the chief U.N. weapons inspector to visit and talk. But more talk is unnecessary. In the end, Iraq must let the inspectors go where they want, when they want. A strike against Iraq would require the use of bases in the region. Prudence demands 100,000 troops or more; if the foe collapses quickly, wonderful, but if not, be ready. There must be contingency plans for street fighting in major cities and plans for nation-building.
Hussein has used chemical weapons before, against the Kurds in Iraq and against Iran. It is not easy to predict when a nation will use its weapons of mass destruction or what is necessary to deter such use. Iraq did not use its chemical and biological weapons during the Gulf War because it knew the response would be quick and overwhelming.
The world would be better off without Saddam Hussein. But if he does not pose an imminent threat, if there is not better intelligence on his acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and readiness to use them or provide them to terrorists, don't marshal the troops.
-- Los Angeles Times
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