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IN ANCIENT times, Cato the Elder ended each and every one of his speeches before the Roman Senate with the words "Cartago delenda est"--"Carthage must be destroyed." And the city-state across the Mediterranean--Rome's largest commercial rival--eventually was annihilated in the course of the Punic Wars.
Today the words of Cato, slightly altered, embody the necessary solution to the current Persian Gulf crisis. Put simply, Iraq must be destroyed.
Unfortunately for policymakers and military planners, Iraq poses a threat to the civilized world far greater than that of mere commercial rivalry. It is guilty of both the barbaric repression of its own people and the atrocious treatment of outsiders. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's current manipulation of Western hostages may be stomach-turning, but it reveals only a hint of the ruthlessness he showed in using poison gas against both Iranians and his own Kurdish civilians.
If the current regime is not stopped now, Iraq is likely to threaten full-scale biological, chemical and even nuclear warfare in the pursuit of its aggressive foreign policy objectives.
The solution is obvious: The United States should use Iraq's invasion of Kuwait as the perfect justification for ending Saddam's megalomaniacal ambitions.
THE issue is not the restoration of the Kuwaiti Royal family nor the longevity of the Saudi regime. Along with a handful of other, smaller oil-rich sheikdoms, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are rightly labeled the only family-owned businesses with seats in the United Nations. They are backward and absolutist, and are the primary financial backers of the Palestinian terror organizations that have spilled so much innocent blood in the past decades.
Nor is the fundamental problem the need to protect the vast oil reserves in the Persian Gulf. Our country imports a relatively small percentage of its oil from Iraq and Kuwait, and from the whole Persian Gulf for that matter. Should Saddam cut off access to Gulf oil, it would certainly spell trouble for our economy in the short term, but we could use the opportunity to develop alternative energy sources, a project long overdue.
A loss of access to Gulf oil, however, is not likely to occur. At this point Iraq is interested in making money through small price increases, not in sending the industrialized world into an economic crisis. Saddam needs funds to rebuild his economy in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq War and to strengthen his position as the new superpower of the Arab world. The current price inflation at the gas pump, after all, owes more to the U.N. sanctions and blockade--and to oil company profiteering--than to Iraqi manipulation of the crude oil market.
In the absence of a cause far more compelling than the national sovereignty of undemocratic nations halfway around the world or the price of gasoline, American lives and resources are more wisely kept at home.
But there is such a compelling cause--the cause of preventing Iraq from wreaking havoc in the Middle East and threatening the safety of the entire world. Allowing Saddam Hussein a way out with a face-saving negotiated settlement will only enable him to bide his time and strike out when Iraq's military prowess is even greater.
RIGHT now, Saddam commands a million-man standing army, the fourth largest in the world. Iraq has some 6000 tanks, an armored force second only to that of the Soviet Union. Even legitimate questions about the quality of its soldiers and the modernity of its armor do not obscure the sheer enormity of Iraq's military power.
Its land and air forces are battle-tested from the long war with Iran--and its population is prepared to sustain tremendous casualties. Iraq experienced greater losses in certain individual battles with Iran than the United States lost in all of the Vietnam War.
And, most importantly, Iraq's forces are at the behest of perhaps the globe's most ruthless dictator, a man who no doubt considers comparisons to Adolf Hitler both a compliment and a challenge.
Make no doubt about it: Hussein is intent upon rising to this challenge and achieving Middle Eastern hegemony--while destroying Israel in the process. And here lies the real danger of Iraq's power, the reason the rest of the world cannot allow Hussein's expansionism to remain unchecked and his military apparatus to stay intact.
In a part of the world where Pan-Arabism is still the drug of choice among Muslims and where the state of Israel is despised most of all not for denying the Palestinians a homeland but for being an insult to Islam itself, saviors are much in demand.
Saddam fashions himself such a savior, the new Saladin to wrest the holy land from the crusaders--in this case Israel, the only non-Islamic and democratic enclave in all of the Middle East.
The disturbing yet unsurprising reality is that much of the Arab world views Hussein in this way, too. While the leadership of most Arab nations have denounced Saddam and would gladly see his power crushed, many of the people in these same countries regard him as a hero. And Saddam will command even more fanatical devotion if he emerges from the current crisis with what can in any remote sense be termed a victory.
Saddam's wisespread appeal to the Arab masses isn't limited to his his threat to wipe out Israel with poison gas; he is enormously popular for his thuggery against the rich and selfish Arab patricians of Kuwait.
But the desperate West Bank parents who have in such large numbers named their newborns "Saddam Hussein" have unwittingly branded a whole new generation of Palestinians with yet another badge of shame, for if there is one thing Israel cannot allow, it is a state of Saddam devotees existing on its doorstep.
THE West cannot allow this scenario either. If Saddam becomes the next Saladin, he will throw the entire Middle East into a chaos that the rest of the world will be unable to ignore. The specter of catastrophic war involving Iraq, Israel and superpowers will be at hand.
The only answer to this threat is to destroy it. The task is the permanent military enfeeblement and political humbling of the current regime. Whether Saddam Hussein himself remains in office after his nation's emasculation is not crucial, although history shows that devastating military losses do not bode well for the life expectancy of Arab leaders.
Iraq's chemical and nuclear weapons programs must be decimated to the last installation. Foolish European nations like West Germany and France must then be compelled never again to aid in the development of such potentially disastrous weapons--in Iraq or in any other unstable or aggressive country.
Saddam's intelligence and command and control centers must likewise be reduced to rubble, thereby weakening his ability to plan and wage even a conventional war.
Despite several attempts, no Pan-Arab superpower has emerged in modern history. The United States should make sure that Iraq does not become the first.
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