In 1998, United Nations inspectors were kicked out of Iraq by Saddam Hussein after they tried to inspect various sites where they suspected weapons of mass destruction were being built or developed. As a result of the short but victorious Gulf War, various conditions were imposed on Iraq, and one was that the country was prohibited from producing weapons with a capability to cause mass destruction.
Unfortunately, U.N. officials, as well as U.S. officials, didn't have the courage to stand firm in their demand to inspect suspicious weapons production locations, and the inspectors were ordered out of Iraq.
One of the inspectors, an American who had served in the U.S. military before his U.N. assignment, returned to the United States with criticism of the Clinton administration's weak-kneed response to Hussein's ejection of the U.N. force.
He did not hesitate to speak out about how concerned he was about what might be going on behind locked doors in Iraq. He said U.S. officials should have pressed the issue and forced Hussein to abide by sanctions that were accepted by all parties as a condition of the allied forces ending their deadly bombing and not entering and capturing Baghdad.
This particular member of the U.N. inspection team was asked to appear before a Senate committee looking into the situation. Sen. Joseph Biden Jr. of Delaware was a member of this Senate committee, and it was clear he did not place much credence on the inspector's report, observations and recommendations. It's possible he believed what the former U.N. agent reported, but if so, his political support for Clinton was so strong he was not going to agree to anything that suggested the Clinton administration was not taking the right course of action on Hussein and the build-up of weapons of mass destruction.
In fact, the Delaware senator became belligerent with the former U.S. serviceman. He argued with him over his testimony and asked the former inspector, who had spent considerable time in Iraq trying to check and verify Hussein's claim that they were not producing or building weapons, whether he thought he knew more about the situation than Clinton did. He told the witness he should stick to what he knew something about rather than suggest what the U.S. policy should be, and that his time in the military and as a U.N. inspector didn't give him the credentials to suggest what policies and actions Uncle Sam should follow in Iraq.
Biden's treatment of the former inspector was cocky and arrogant. His fellow Democrats on the committee were not as nasty to the witness and, as might be expected, GOP members of the committee were far more supportive of the witness and his reading of the dangerous situation in Iraq.
Now, three years later, there are indications President Bush and his senior advisers are giving serious thought to extending their fight against terrorism and the threat of horrible, deadly weapons to countries other than Afghanistan, such as Iraq.
Hindsight is great, and perhaps much of the Middle East trouble facing the world today would have been reduced if the first President Bush had continued the attack against Iraq to a complete conclusion and a total surrender rather than stopping the 1991 war with a cease-fire.
Bush's actions allowed Hussein to stay in power and eventually to rebuild and reactivate his weapons-production facilities. During this post-Gulf War period, it is believed he has been a major source of support for Osama bin Laden and his terrorist efforts. It is reported Hussein may be the strongest supporter of bin Laden. He harbors and supports terrorists and their activities and he may be a source of weapons.
The current President Bush makes it clear he intends to follow the terrorist thread wherever it may lead and do what is necessary to rid the world of the vast terrorist network. He has been asked many times whether this applies to Iraq and his answer is that he has made his position clear and those such as Hussein know whether they should be in Bush's sights.
It is interesting how the Iraq story is playing out and how it may be brought to a conclusion. It is clear the former U.N. inspector knew what he was talking about when he appeared before Biden's Senate committee. It was a mistake for Uncle Sam not to demand a total inspection of Iraqi weapons plants. The weapons and machinery to produce the weapons should have been destroyed. Likewise, it was a mistake to leave Hussein in power, although at that time, the coalition of Arab states that were supportive of the Gulf effort might have unraveled if the war had been pursued to a total surrender and ouster of Hussein. Who knows?
The fact is, Hussein still is in power, and he is a major enemy of the United States. He supports bin Laden and other terrorists, and there doesn't seem to be any question that weapons of all types are being produced in Iraq.
Is President Bush now in a position to finish what his father perhaps should have done 10 years ago? How do his father's actions concerning Hussein play into his current thinking about how to attack terrorism and try to free the world of this deadly force?
If Bush should shift his military efforts to Iraq and perhaps other Mideast nations once he believes the Afghanistan matter has been resolved, will other Arab and Muslim countries remain committed to the U.S. effort?
There are no easy answers, and there always will be second-guessers. Americans should hope Bush and his advisers have the knowledge, courage and commitment to do what is right and necessary to minimize the threats, now and in the future, of terrorism and the development of horrible weapons.