ARABIAN Desert, February 1991.
It seems we waited an eternity for the war to start.
We sat inactive for five months and battled flies, drank hot, tainted water and endured the searing heat. Our patience was put to the test as the leaders of the world pointed fingers and rattled sabers. They were like a swimmer who dips a toe into a cool pool and debates whether to jump in.
But we were furious at the apparent lack of action. No one was afraid to fight, but we could not tolerate sitting useless in the sand indefinitely. This frustration inspired a popular saying among the troops: "Start the fight or book the flight."
The leaders finally took the plunge and made a huge splash. The Iraqi army was decimated, and our magnificent fighting force was poised for the kill. The criminal, Saddam Hussein, was within our grasp.
Then something inexcusable happened. The world leaders pulled back on the reins of the war machine and let Hussein go. The monster responsible for countless deaths was given a second chance. From our foxholes, we thought we could hear him breathe a sigh of relief.
The murderer was brought to trial . . . and then released on a technicality.
The generals, obviously disappointed at this incredible blunder, smiled at the cameras and held their tongues. The rest of the world was too busy celebrating our hollow victory to notice what had happened. The fans thought they'd won the big game, even though we'd dropped the ball at the 10-yard line. The soldiers knew better. We knew we would be back.
Two years and eight months later, as I watch the mess we've made of the Somalia rescue mission, I am reminded of our Desert Storm slogan. Today, it's hard to tell the gulf war even took place. Saddam Hussein is still sitting in his bunker, collecting uranium and thumbing his nose at the rest of the world. Time and again, we have borne his threats and insults, while our leaders sit on their hands. The world responds to him through half-hearted restrictions and ineffective surgical air strikes. Certainly our foreign policy makers are smart enough to realize that these gestures are a waste of time and money.
One thing the past has taught us is that Hussein is far too resilient to be swayed by these ridiculous attacks. The Butcher of Baghdad hides behind the veil of international law; these are the same laws he breaks without hesitation.
While the world's major powers gathered in Tokyo during this year's economic summit and argued over the price of widgets, Hussein was steadily gathering his strength. What will it take this time to bring the world to its senses?
Start the fight or book the flight. Once again we sit inactive as the world leaders scratch their heads and wonder what to do with Iraq. Had they listened to the military, we would not be in this predicament. Make no mistake, Hussein is just as much a threat now as he was before the war. The man is like a disease; he can't be appeased or reasoned with. The only solution is to eliminate him.
We need to let Hussein know that the United States will no longer tolerate him as the Iraqi head-of-state, and that we will use any means necessary to effect his abdication. To add weight to our words, we must place the country in an economic and political stranglehold. Even the smallest Iraqi violation of any U.N. mandates must be answered with massive retaliation. Iraq must be squeezed so tightly that it can no longer breathe. If we are not willing to take these measures now, we must be willing to fight Desert Storm: Part Two in the future.
As a decorated Persian Gulf veteran who risked his life for his country, I am disgusted by the way our leaders have handled Iraq. The current situation is a slap in the face to all the men and women who suffered and sacrificed. Hussein was allowed to go free nearly three years ago, only to resume shaking his fist. Why do we allow this to continue?
Americans have proven that they are willing to accept sacrifice as long as there is a clear objective. We need to take Hussein out now, while we still can.
Let's take the plunge, and perhaps this time we'll get it right.
John Ross writes from Baltimore.