One of the criticisms about the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America was that we should have seen it coming. Some sort of pre-emptive action might have stopped the terrorists from hijacking our planes and killing our people, some said.
We now have another opportunity to forestall perhaps even worse assaults on our people and freedoms by removing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from power before he can unleash weapons of mass destruction on Israel and, perhaps, the United States.
In recent days, advisers to the former President Bush have gone public with recommendations to the current president not to take out Saddam. These are people, including former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, who recommended that the former president settle for expelling Saddam's forces from Kuwait during the Gulf War and not attempt to topple Saddam. That advice worked well, didn't it? Fortunately, the current national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, disagrees with her mentor. In an interview last week with the BBC, Rice called Saddam evil and said the world has an obligation to remove him from power or face inevitable global "havoc" orchestrated by his regime.
It would appear we have moved from the days of Franklin Roosevelt, who said, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," to our present day when some fear fighting evil more than the evil itself.
President George W. Bush has the right attitude. He told reporters Friday that the public debate over what action to take against Saddam Hussein "healthy," but added, "America needs to know I'll be making up my mind (whether to go to war) based upon the latest intelligence and how best to protect our own country plus our friends and allies."
In the aftermath of 9-11, the president warned that the war against terrorism would be long and the price would be high. He said more lives would undoubtedly be lost, whether by terrorist acts or by the war against terrorism.
Freedom is not cheap and a war to oust Saddam Hussein won't come at bargain basement prices. But any decision about war must consider long-term benefits and consequences. No one, including Brent Scowcroft, disagrees that the world would be a safer and better place if someone other than Saddam Hussein headed Iraq's government. Saddam is not going to respond to any Western appeals for inspections or negotiations. We already know what his objectives are and they are not in our, or the world's, best interests.
On June 7, 1981, Israel took out Saddam's nuclear facility at Osirak, south of Baghdad. The nearly-completed Tammuz-1 reactor had been built by the French. European nations, which refused to save themselves from Hitler (and the United States had to do it for them at great cost), continue making back-door deals with Saddam while criticizing their supposed American "ally" for even contemplating the liberation of the Iraqi people from Saddam's iron grip.
The Israeli government issued a statement in 1981 that it had evidence that the Tammuz-1 reactor was "designed to produce atomic bombs," and that "the target for such bombs would be Israel." Europeans and even the United States, which voted to condemn Israel at the United Nations, criticized the attack. But who doubts that if Saddam had been allowed to complete his work Israel would by now be a radioactive parking lot?
No responsible leader believes Saddam Hussein has changed his stripes. Whether armed with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, he remains a threat to the world. Even dovish Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told CNN last week, "The problem today is not if, but when (Saddam will use his weapons of mass destruction)." Peres added that while attacking Saddam now would be "quite dangerous, postponing it would be more dangerous" because "he will have more weapons."
(Over the weekend, Peres softened his position, issuing a statement saying he was not pressuring the Bush administration to strike Iraq, and that the timing for any such assault would be a U.S. decision.)
Saddam Hussein seeks revenge because of the humiliation he suffered at the hands of former President Bush by humiliating Bush's son. A man who would gas his own people and back a plot to assassinate former President Bush will stop at nothing to make sure evil triumphs.
It is America's job, even if we must do it alone, to make sure he does not succeed.
Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services