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Jewish World Review /Nov. 12, 1998 / 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Roger Simon

Roger Simon Too bad we can't just blow Saddam away

WASHINGTON -- Our current (continuing, ongoing, never-ending) crisis with Iraq is another example of how a relatively weak country can frustrate a strong one.

Or, to put it another way, it is a good example of how a country willing to do inhumane things can frustrate a country that is not.

There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein threatens the Middle East and quite possibly the entire world with his insistence on developing weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.

The generous peace terms we and the United Nations dictated to him at the end of the Gulf War in March 1991 demanded that he destroy those weapons and allow U.N. inspectors to check up on him before we lifted our sanctions against his country.

Over the years, Saddam has played a cat-and-mouse game with us, however, allowing some inspections, frustrating others, kicking out inspectors, pushing us to the brink, pulling back and starting the whole merry-go-round going again.

The last time he played this game was in February, when our military buildup, never used, cost us $1.4 billion.

Now, as I write this, we are building up again for what might be an air strike or a series of air strikes against Iraq.

Yet every time Saddam tests our resolve, he seems to win: Our allies grow more and more reluctant to support our military efforts, Saddam remains in power, and in the end, no matter what he agrees to, he is free to kick out the inspectors and build his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons once more.

He knows that even if we launch air strikes this time, we will avoid civilian population centers as much as we can. And if you were Saddam, wouldn't you put your weapons facilities right in the middle of civilians to the extent you could? Wouldn't you put your biological weapons sites in the basements of hospitals, for instance?

Saddam knows we will not carpet-bomb Baghdad. He knows we will not wipe large numbers of innocent civilians in order to get at him.

We would not be so inhumane. We would not be like him.

And he knows the one thing that could remove him from power -- an invasion of Iraq by U.S. ground forces -- is not something the president is willing to consider (and would be unlikely to have the support of the American people for).

So where does that leave us? It leaves us with air strikes designed to cripple Saddam's weapons production and weaken his military, while keeping civilian losses (some of which are inevitable) to the smallest numbers possible.

We know our chances of killing Saddam in an air strike are minimal, especially if we rely on Tomahawk missiles, which have the advantage of not risking U.S. pilots but have the disadvantage of delivering relatively small explosive payloads. (And don't even think about the United States using nuclear weapons; that is not going to happen.)

So what do our sanctions and possible raids against Iraq get us? Well, we hope that the Iraqi people will get so angry at their suffering that they will blame Saddam and rise up against him.

It's possible, I suppose. But most likely, they will blame us instead. If a bomb falls on your family, you tend to blame the people who dropped the bomb.

The fact is that we have no appetizing options in Iraq. We would love it if there were an effective armed opposition force within Iraq strong enough to topple Saddam, but no such force now exists.

An obvious solution -- assassinating Saddam -- is a solution the president says he will not consider because it violates U.S. law.

Too bad. Assassination is not pleasant, but it would reduce civilian casualties, reduce the risk to our armed forces, vastly reduce the cost to the American taxpayer and quite possibly work.

Instead, however, we are preparing to send 129 more warplanes and 3,000 more troops to join the forces we already have in the Gulf.

And even if we use them all, what's the most we can reasonably expect from it?

The opportunity to do it all over again in a few months.


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5/1/98:"Bubba v. Tabacka"
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4/23/98: "NOW" should change its name to "THEN"
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2/24/98: Go get 'em, Bill!
2/19/98: My 15 minutes
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2/12/98: Drip, Drip, Drip
2/10/98: Clinton tunes out the networks
2/5/98: The flight of the Beast: America's love-hate relationship with scandal
2/3/98: Speaking Clintonese
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
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12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.