Four months ago, President George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address asserted that Iraq, Iran and North Korea were countries that comprised an "axis of evil" for their attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction and support of international terrorist groups. As events have continued to unfold in the ongoing war against terrorism, it has become clear that this was no rhetorical gesture by the president: His speech on Jan. 29, 2002, clearly outlined the reasons why the United States is slowly gearing up for an all-out war with Iraq in the months ahead.
This was the key passage in the president's speech:
"By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic."
Currently, the United States maintains limited but ongoing diplomatic relations with Iran and North Korea, but in the case of Iraq, diplomacy is dead. In fact, you can argue that we remain in a state of war with Baghdad that regularly erupts when his army attempts to shoot down our aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones, and we retaliate with attacks on missile sites and radar stations.
Some political analysts initially faulted Bush's tactic to lump the three regimes into an "axis" solely because of their similar efforts to create WMD and delivery systems - after all, Iran and Iraq themselves fought a bitter war during 1980-88 - but such criticism missed a key point. In making America's case against Iraq, Bush revealed his intentions to stand firm, and discarded the Clinton administration's eight-year "containment" policy on Iraq that failed to prevent Saddam's ongoing WMD efforts.
It is unnecessary today for the United States to justify decisive military action against Iraq by digging up new evidence regarding Iraqi WMD programs or to "prove" a suspected link between 9-11 hijacking ringleader Mohammad Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Czechoslovakia. What we already know about Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime is justification enough.
President Bush accurately summarized Washington's position in articulating four key points that define the increasing threat to the United States and our allies posed by the current regime in Iraq. They constitute the justification for the use of devastating military action against Saddam Hussein, his dictatorial Ba'ath Party and the Iraqi military machine.
First, Iraq a decade after its military defeat in the Persian Gulf War continues to be an active state sponsor of terrorism. While direct links to al Qaeda and the 9-11 attacks remain elusive, Saddam and his regime do support other murderous terror groups such as the Palestinian militant organization, Hamas.
Even analysts who currently oppose a U.S. military invasion to depose Saddam - on grounds of probable high casualties and increased regional tensions as a result - warn that confirmation of direct Iraqi support for terrorism against the United States would justify a full invasion with the goal of overthrowing the Iraqi regime. But we should not forget that Saddam has already done so in the recent past. In 1993, Iraqi intelligence agents tried to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush during a visit to Kuwait.
Confronted by irrefutable evidence of this plot, President Clinton was forced to react and ordered a cruise missile strike on Iraqi intelligence headquarters. And experts say Iraq continues to harbor a number of terrorists who attacked American targets during our involvement in Lebanon in the early 1980s, including the infamous Abu Nidal.
Washington accuses Iraq of sponsoring and training groups on its "terrorist list," and in the post-9-11 era, this alone justifies massive military retaliation.
Second, the United States has accused the Iraqi regime of plotting the development of anthrax, nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade despite its formal agreement in the Gulf War cease-fire agreement to halt all such efforts. Both American and British leaders argue that an Iraq armed with weapons of mass destruction poses a threat, not just to the region, but to the entire world.
A U.S. State Department report published in early 1998 asserted that Iraq still had the potential to develop WMD, concluding that "enough production components and data remain hidden and enough expertise has been retained or developed to enable Iraq to resume development and production of WMD." The report added, that Iraq had maintained "a small force of Scud-type missiles, a small stockpile of chemical and biological munitions, and the capability to quickly resurrect biological and chemical weapons production." It also noted Baghdad's well-known interest in acquiring or developing nuclear weapons. This was further underscored by a UN report published in March 2001 that asserted Iraq still had chemical and biological weapons, as well as the delivery systems to launch them at targets in other countries. As recently as last week, an American diplomat informed me, off the record, that photographs taken by our photoreconnaissance satellites reveal that trucks, imported into Iraq from other countries ostensibly for civilian purposes, have been converted into mobile missile launchers.
Third, the Iraqi regime in a military campaign known as the Anfal (or spoils, in Arabic) against the Kurdish population in the late 1980s, murdered countless thousands of men, women and children with chemical warfare agents, including mustard gas and sarin. Iraq evaded major retaliation for this because it occurred at a time when Iraq was considered an ally of the United States and Great Britain during its war with Iran. The best estimate is that Saddam ordered the deaths of between 70,000 and 150,000 Kurds in 1989, including approximately 5,000 killed with chemical agents.
Separately, the Iraqi regime forcibly relocated roughly 150,000 Marsh Arabs from southern Iraq by draining the marshes in which they lived. Fourth, it is clear that the United States can justify a military campaign against Iraq for Baghdad's deliberate violation of the March 3, 1991 cease-fire agreement.
The United Nations weapons inspection program in Iraq - a key element of the cease-fire accord - was forced to shut down in December 1998 after years of operation. Even while the inspections were going on, Iraqi officials continuously harassed and blocked their efforts and interfered with monitoring equipment.
Iraq's attempt to justify expelling the inspectors on grounds they were serving as spies for Washington and Great Britain was laughable, given the overwhelming evidence of ongoing WMD production efforts there. After UNSCOM's withdrawal, they were replaced by UNMOVIC, (the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission) which has not even been allowed into the country.
And after four years of intensive inspections, U.N. inspectors did not even discover Iraq's biological weapons program until they got a tip from Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel al-Majid, who defected to Jordan in 1995.
Given Saddam Hussein's proven track record of ruthless aggression against his own people and neighboring states (Iran, Israel and Kuwait), his confirmed role in the attempted assassination of former President Bush, and the overwhelming evidence of his desire and efforts to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, it would be folly for the United States to allow what is now a regional menace to become a genuine threat to the entire world.
Sometime in the months ahead, it is likely that President Bush will once again address the nation to announce that the U.S. military has begun combat operations for the purpose of removing Saddam Hussein from his murderous grip on power in Iraq. When that day comes, I anticipate that the president will repeat a telling line from his State of the Union Address on Jan. 29, 2002: "The price of indifference would be catastrophic."
J. David Galland
J. David Galland, Deputy Editor of DefenseWatch and The Founder and President of Bound & Overwatch - The Military Observer. He is a retired veteran of over thirty years of service in military intelligence who resides in Bonn, Germany.