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Jewish World Review Dec. 4, 2001 / 19 Kislev, 5762

Chris Matthews

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If it were in my power to stop Dubya, I would -- LIKE other victors before him, President Bush is being tempted with greater glories. He should follow his triumph in Afghanistan, the trumpet sounds, with a more magnificent destruction of Saddam Hussein.

If it were in my power to stop him, I would.

To attack Iraq now would forfeit all that the American president has won since Sept. 11:

-- the backing of the United Nations;

-- the resurrection of the Big Three alliance of America, Britain and Russia, which won World War II;

-- the support of the Arab League; and

-- a 90-percent job approval from the American people.

It short, it would be nothing like the recent successes in Afghanistan.

To topple Saddam would take a half million to a million U.S. troops. It would require an occupying force capable of policing a civilian population that would be embittered by enormous casualties and a brutal bombing campaign. Throughout much of the world, and not just in the Middle East, it would cast our side in the role of the aggressor. Once again, it would recall Pearl Harbor, but this time with us in the role of the imperial Japanese.

I have given up trying to understand the thinking of those who agitate for such a wrong and tragic course against Saddam. They try and fail to blame him for Sept. 11. They try and fail to blame him for the anthrax letters. Yet, their inability to nail him only adds to their resolve. They want nothing less than an all-out war with Iraq. They want American troops to march into Baghdad, take control of the country, "take out" Saddam, and create a post-Saddam government favorable to the United States.

I can't tell where President Bush stands, whether with his Secretary of State Colin Powell or with the neo-conservatives inside and outside of his administration who have long led their global wish-list with Saddam's destruction. He called this week for Saddam to let U.N. Inspectors search his country for weapons of mass destruction. While Hussein defied him, this is the sort of posturing that's been going on for years.

Bush must certainly know the risks and costs of the all-out invasion the anti-Hussein hawks are demanding. It would put the United States on one side, Iraq and the rest of the world on the other. I doubt that even Tony Blair would back an attack on Baghdad.

What a calamitous end this would bring to the current anti-terrorist campaign. Instead of leading the world in a war of justice, we would be undoubtedly scorned as an aggressor.

Here at home, the country would suffer a hard division.

The hunt for Osama bin Laden was, let's face it, an easy sell. His crowd killed our people. For that, he's going to die.

A war with Iraq would enjoy none of this same authenticity. We would be attacking another country based on what it might do: use biological or nuclear weapons against another country.

That might work with a small group of us. It will not sell to the majority.

I liked the way Harry Truman talked about us. He called us "this country." He didn't mean the government in Washington, but the American people in those splendid moments when we feel and act as one.

Right now is one of those moments. The Taliban is finished. Forces allied with the United States have grabbed Kabul and other major cities, while the Marines hunt cave-to-cave for Osama bin Laden.

Here at home, the country stands united. The terrorist network that attacked us on Sept. 11 is being decapitated.

Best of all, we can see a feasible future line of attack. To wipe out bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, America will now attack its other training grounds in Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and the Philippines. And along every step of the way, President Bush will retain the emphatic loyalty of the American people. That 90-percent job approval rating will stay at 90 percent.

This isn't complicated. Bush is doing what any red-blooded American leader would do. He is bringing justice to those who killed our people in cold blood. That's something Americans have been ready to do since those early Revolutionary days, when our flag showed a coiled snake and the words "Don't Tread on Me."

What we shouldn't be ready to do is attack another country before it attacks us.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of "Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think". and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Comment by clicking here.

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