by J.D. Tuccille
December 30, 2002

Bait-and-switch enemies

Does anybody remember Osama bin Laden? He's the fellow who masterminded the bloody September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and who, assuming he's still alive, remains at large and a threat to American lives and property.

But U.S. troops aren't mobilizing for an assault on an al Q'aeda fortress harboring bin Laden. Instead, they're gathering for a rematch with Saddam Hussein, a petty dictator whose army was defeated during the administration of the current president's father, and who has never posed a military threat to the United States.

Roughly 11,000 troops from the Army's Third Infantry Division were recently sent to reinforce American forces already stationed in Kuwait, next door to Hussein's Iraq. Joining them are Marines from Camp Pendleton, raising U.S. strength in the region to about 60,000 troops. Rep. Steve Buyer, co-chairman of the National Guard and Reserve Components Caucus, says that more than 200,000 reservists could be called up by winter's end.

Top government officials promise us that gee-whiz military technology developed since the last Gulf War will render U.S. air strikes more devastating than ever before, and doom Iraqi resistance.

So we know that the U.S. military is ready, willing and able too strike -- but why is it poised to strike Saddam Hussein and not Osama bin Laden?

Supposedly, Iraq poses a threat to America because Hussein's regime is actively seeking to develop "weapons of mass destruction": chemical, biological and nuclear arms.

But many governments throughout the world have access to poisonous gas and dangerous germs, and a slowly growing number of regimes wield nuclear weapons. More than a few of these nations are hostile to the U.S. but none have ever attacked America -- perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the massive armory under the control of the world's one remaining superpower.

As Robert Higgs, a foreign policy expert for the Independent Institute, recently pointed out, "[Saddam Hussein] understands fully that any use of weapons of mass destruction -- suitcase nukes, deadly germs, nerve gas, or anything else—by him or any agent of his against the United States will elicit his immediate destruction, most likely by means of U.S. nuclear retaliation."

Just in case Saddam and company failed to appreciate the risks of retaliation by U.S. forces, American officials explicitly reemphasized that warning in public not long ago.

Prof. Kenneth Waltz of Columbia University argues, "[c]ountries that have nuclear weapons co-exist peacefully because each knows the other can do horrendous damage to it."

More than a few people disagree about the pacifying benefits of atomic bombs. But a strong case can be made that the long, if tense, peace between the United States and the Soviet Union can be directly attributed to the very serious consequences that could have resulted from open combat.

As belligerent as heavily armed bullies like the Cold War's Joseph Stalin or today's Saddam Hussein might be, they live to exercise power and to enjoy the fruits thereof. It's difficult to enjoy the perquisites of dictatorship when the ruins of your palace glow in the dark.

Besides, efforts to prevent the spread of destructive weapons have proven to be an exercise in futility. Ongoing revelations about North Korea's nuclear armaments program demonstrate that, in a world of advancing technology, even bizarre, backwards regimes can add "the bomb" to their armories. A massive military operation against Iraq might delay the spread of such weapons, but only by a few years, in one small place.

So U.S. politicians have dedicated American lives and materiel to play King Canute against a tide of military technology. All of this to inconvenience an unexceptionally nasty regime that poses no direct threat to Americans at home.

What gives? Why this obsession with Saddam Hussein when Osama bin Laden remains unpunished for his attack on the U.S. and his organization continues to represent a danger to the U.S.?

Could it be that, stymied by a nearly invisible enemy in the form of bin Laden and his terrorist network, U.S. policymakers have chosen to strike out against a familiar bogeyman? Saddam Hussein may be nothing special, but he’s easy to find and already despised by the American public.

In the end, after yet another war, we may discover that Americans killed and died against a phony threat to cover the U.S. government's embarrassment at failing to deal with a real problem.


Ah well, and so much for the power of argument. So back you go to Full Automatic or to my home page.

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