Just one year later

Maybe it’s the invention of the remote control that did it. We can click through a hundred TV channels without really seeing anything. The remote control institutionalized attention deficit disorder for the entire nation. It is a national illness.

Forget the hours upon hours of coverage of the horrific tragedy just one year ago. We are watching the events unfold all over again on our TV screens without really comprehending the meaning of what it is that we are watching. How else can you explain those polls that show, with each passing day, that support for getting rid of Saddam Hussein diminishes?

We have apparently forgotten how small and how dangerous the world is in which we live. The vast oceans on either side of us no longer are a guarantee of our safety. If Sept. 11, 2001 proved anything, it proved that we are now as vulnerable as the rest of the world. And those who hate us want to destroy us.

The great debate that is taking place over whether to invade Iraq should have ended by now. Those who argue that we should wait must certainly have spent the last year in one of those cryogenic freezers. How else could the image of those burning Twin Towers have been conveniently erased? How else could the anthrax that almost paralyzed our postal system have eluded them?

The worst aspect of all of this is that the president is being undercut, not so much by Democrats — who, for the most part, are waiting out this debate in the craven hope that their own political fortunes will rise — but by his own party, even by some members of his father’s administration, who created the problem in the first place.

Let me be clear, I understood and agreed with the decision of President George H. Bush to end the Gulf War without going after Saddam Hussein. At the time, I believed the information disseminated by the first Bush Administration that we had so weakened Saddam that he was no longer a threat to the region. Going after Saddam would have probably meant hand-to-hand combat in the streets of Baghdad and exceeded the president’s mandate.

But events since then no longer afford us the luxury of turning a blind eye to the threat posed by Hussein. Those who served in the first Bush Administration above all should understand that, but some of them persist — even in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary — that we should wait. Alas, I am puzzled by the failure of our former president, the father of our current embattled leader, not to speak out.

The main arguments for the waiting game can easily be refuted. I use Claude Lewis’ commentary in the Philadelphia Inquirer of Aug. 28 as my reference for the arguments posed against taking action against Iraq. Lewis argues as if he is making nice legal points in one of those TV courtroom dramas instead of in the context of last Sept. 11. He writes that the case against Saddam is circumstantial. Is it?

We have specific evidence of Saddam using chemical weapons against his own people, the Kurds. We know that Iraq has continued in its efforts to pursue weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear capability, and that he threw the U.N. inspectors out of his country three years ago. We know of specific meetings between Saddam and al-Qaeda terrorists as first reported by William Safire in The New York Times. We know of his payments of $25,000 to each family of the Palestinian suicide bombers.

We’d better know that if the Israelis hadn’t taken out Saddam’s nuclear reactor in 1982 (while the world, including ourselves, watched and waited), he already would have had the capability to employ the bomb.

Lewis concedes the possibility that all of this is true, but insists we should wait until we have "firm" evidence. In effect, this means wait until 9-11 happens all over again. Then there is the disingenuous argument Lewis dredges up again that is always used as a rationale for inaction: Why take action against Iraq and not all of the other countries in the world that possess weapons of mass destruction?

The answer should be as plain as the nose on Lewis’ face — one word: Saddam! The other countries are not ruled by this lunatic.

Lewis’ final argument is the same one made before we rescued Kuwait in the Gulf War, and before we ended the Serb genocide and got rid of Milosevic three years ago. Americans will come home in body bags, writes Lewis, and then in an incredibly cynical touch, he adds that these casualties would hurt the president’s approval rating. At what price? he asks.

The price is steep, and no American president makes such a decision without much anguish. But Lewis and the others should ask themselves, at what cost inaction?

The answer is written in the 3,000 killed in the attacks just one year ago.