Hussein posed a threat that had to be met


WASHINGTON - War is upon us, world opinion is largely against us and one may seriously question President Bush's inept diplomacy and some of his motives (for instance, oil).

But it is hard to disagree with the administration's conclusions on Saddam Hussein's regime.

Mr. Hussein indeed represents a threat to the United States and the Middle East. Based upon intelligence briefings and information presented by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, I am convinced that Iraq has not accounted for up to 26,000 liters of anthrax, 1.5 tons of VX nerve agents, mustard gas and sarin nerve gas.

While there is some dispute about the extent of Iraq's nuclear program, widely accepted evidence from Iraqi defectors indicates that Mr. Hussein was moving along the path of developing a nuclear arsenal.

Does this evidence constitute an "imminent" threat to the United States? Perhaps not in the traditional sense of mobilized tanks and armies. But in the context of a post-Sept. 11 world, the evidence represents a clear and present danger.

First, consider Mr. Hussein's history: attacking Iran, invading Kuwait, the gassing of 60,000 Kurds in 1986, killing more than 5,000 of them. Further, no one disputes his torture, rape and murder of Iraqi men, women, and children.

There are those who say, "Why not North Korea?" I say Mr. Hussein has a much worse record of using his weapons aggressively, and without military action has the potential to become the next North Korea.

Second, the nature of chemical and biological weapons is such that by the time the threat becomes imminent, in the traditional sense, it is too late. Thus, the aggressive history of this villainous dictator, the clandestine nature of these weapons and the ability to transfer them easily to terrorists makes his regime a legitimate threat to our interests at home and in the region.

It is interesting that many who oppose the war say that disarming Mr. Hussein by force would be acceptable and justified if only we had multinational support and U.N. authorization. It appears they agree that he is a dangerous dictator who should be disarmed. These critics just do not like the president's approach. While the administration's "coalition of the willing," including Britain, Spain, Italy and many other countries, should not be discounted, clearly it is smaller than many wished.

Here, I do find fault with the Bush administration. In diplomacy, it has been ham-fisted, arrogant and disjointed. As a result, it has failed to obtain broader international support that probably was achievable with greater humility, flexibility and patience. This is why many believe that President Bush was committed to war from the start and never interested in a diplomatic solution.

Despite the United States' lack of diplomatic finesse, the problem still lies squarely with Mr. Hussein. Mr. Bush did go to the United Nations, albeit reluctantly, and, with U.N. Resolution 1441, Mr. Hussein was given yet another opportunity by the international community to peacefully disarm. Instead he played cat-and-mouse, waiting until the last minute, when under the threat of war - not U.N. inspections - to do piecemeal what he could and should have done completely in November.

To his credit, President Bush agreed to seek a second resolution to aid our staunch ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Unfortunately, some of our traditional allies did not rise to the occasion. Some of them, coincidentally, have significant financial and oil interests in Iraq (for instance, France's deal to pump 450,000 barrels of oil daily from Iraq). As in the school yard, sometimes only a few are willing to stand up to the bullies, but those few are right, even if others seek appeasement or are too timid to act.

Now that we are at war with Iraq, regardless of one's views on the issue, Americans should rally behind our men and women in the military who are in harm's way. At the same time, public dissent and legitimate criticism of the administration should not be mischaracterized as a lack of patriotism. Freedom of expression is the foundation of our democracy, the kind that Mr. Hussein does not allow.

Valid concerns have been raised about our deteriorating relationships within the global community and our need for international cooperation in the war against terrorism and other global issues. Unfortunately, efforts to obtain a second U.N. resolution to forcibly disarm Iraq were unsuccessful. However, a new diplomatic offensive must be launched to form a multinational coalition to help rebuild Iraq. Our leadership in this effort will demonstrate our commitment to the welfare of the people of Iraq.

Without a doubt, in the aftermath of this war, we will need to mend fences and promote better relations with other countries, especially in the Muslim world. This war to remove weapons of mass destruction must not be a catalyst for a permanent clash of cultures, as our enemies would desire.

Rather, we must match our resolve in disarming Iraq with a commitment to human rights, permanently ending poverty and disease and peaceful coexistence with our neighbors around the world.

Albert R. Wynn, a Democrat, represents Maryland's 4th Congressional District in the House of Representatives.

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