PRESIDENT BUSH has a keen sense of timing. When support slackens for the war on terrorism and regime change in Iraq, Bush strikes. After the liberation of Afghanistan, he used his 2002 State of the Union address to broaden the goals of the war and target Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as "the axis of evil." Especially Iraq. When criticism of going after Iraq mounted last summer--former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft's attack was the most damaging--the president answered with a scorching speech at the United Nations.
Now, against the threat of never-ending U.N. inspections in Iraq and delaying tactics by France and China and Russia, Bush has struck again. His State of the Union last month made the case for removing Saddam Hussein from power. It was reinforced by Secretary of State Colin Powell's irrefutable indictment of Iraq at the U.N. Security Council last week for stockpiling forbidden weapons of mass destruction and forging links with al Qaeda terrorists. "Enough, enough," Powell concluded. Bush backed that up the next day by declaring, "The game is over."
Indeed it is, and the Bush administration is right to act accordingly by accelerating war preparations. War is the next step. The time for inspections is over. The time for waiting to see if Saddam's Arab neighbors will convince him to go into exile is over. The time for wooing those predisposed to distrust the president and America is over. And the time for waging a full-scale campaign for a new U.N. resolution against Iraq is over, too.
The unpersuaded are beside the point now. The president has met every one of their demands. Yet few have endorsed deposing Saddam--columnist Mary McGrory of the Washington Post is the exception--and many more have come up with new demands. Their first requirement for Bush was to seek a congressional resolution approving war with Iraq. He got one. (Senator Edward Kennedy wants a new congressional resolution, but that's a non-starter.) Next was repudiating unilateral military action. Of course the United States was never going to act alone, if only because Prime Minister Tony Blair ensured Great Britain would stick with us on Iraq. But consider the alliance of countries that now supports Bush in one form or another. It's global: Albania, Angola, Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Guinea, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen. That's 34 countries, and no doubt more are to come.
What else? Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle repeatedly insisted that the American people "need to know more," and that the president must present the evidence about Iraq to the public before going to war. Bush and Powell have complied, with Powell offering copious and highly specific details. But even before they did, Saddam's acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and his ties to terrorists weren't exactly secret. Jeffrey Goldberg of the New Yorker, for one, has reported voluminously on the al Qaeda connection.
Finally there's the demand that Bush take his case to the U.N. He did that, too, gaining a tough new resolution on inspections in Iraq last fall. Those inspections have failed, according to Bush and Powell and also Hans Blix, the U.N. inspections chief. To this, the response of the nay-sayers is that before moving against Iraq Bush should seek a second resolution from the U.N. This is supposedly needed to develop still more international backing for war with Iraq. Surprisingly, Bush has said he would welcome such a resolution and may actively seek one.
It's hard to see the point of devoting much time or effort to securing a second resolution. One providing U.N. approval for war with Iraq is unlikely. And a resolution that says Iraq is further in material breach of the earlier resolution would be superfluous. The demand for another resolution is simply another in a seemingly endless series of traps designed to delay the day of reckoning.
Bush has eluded all such traps except the question of the second resolution. Here, the administration should be careful. The French, the Chinese, and perhaps the Russians are bent on constraining Bush by quibbling over the resolution for as long as possible. Meanwhile, Saddam is already making concessions to U.N. inspectors, who will probably report they're finally making progress and urge that inspections be continued for months more. Bush should ignore their pleas. Fussing over inspections, the U.N., and what might entice the French to join the anti-Saddam alliance leads to inaction. The president has cleared a better path--for action that removes Saddam and liberates Iraq.
--Fred Barnes, for the Editors