Mark Alexander / January 3, 2003

Last Year — for the Axis of Evil?

The new year is here, but 2003 heralds in a lot of old business from 2002. International parrying with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s corner of the “Axis of Evil” continued through Holy Week and into the new year. UN arms experts visited a bioweapons site made infamous a decade back when Saddam posted “Baby Milk Factory” signs at the facility. Meanwhile, other UN weapons inspectors continued scooting around the countryside, this week visiting a brewery and a 7-Up bottling plant – although not to pick up New Year’s refreshments, we are told.

Declaring Iraq’s dossier to be a “material breach” of the resolution is not a declaration of war, though it moves the U.S. one step closer to a military confrontation with Iraq. Rather, for the time being, Washington appears committed to working within the framework of the Security Council, though the administration has made it clear that foot-dragging on the diplomatic front will not be allowed to disrupt any necessary military action.

Of course, the endgame timing creates a dilemma: Should an invasion of Iraq be deemed necessary, the ideal time operationally is January or February, when the desert is at its mildest, before temperatures begin to soar up to 130F degrees. As was the case with the 1991 Persian Gulf War, U.S. forces will be fully in place for an assault by the end of this month, when the UN weapons inspectors file their report. But delaying military action allows for more intelligence gathering on Saddam’s nuclear weapons program (how many weapons have already been produced and where they are), more high-level recruiting of key government personnel, and more information on which bunkers should be targeted by low-yield nuclear bunker augers to ensure Saddam is vaporized. After all, as we have noted previously, regime change ultimately means “kill Saddam”!

Meanwhile, surveillance photography indicates Saddam is rigging airfields where U.S. and allied forces might land in early stages of combat, and intelligence sources have concluded that he will practice a “scorched earth” policy within Iraq, blaming U.S. troops for the harm he plans in destroying oil fields, power plants and food supplies. He is also likely to unleash his stocks of biological and chemical weapons. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warns, “In weapons of mass destruction, one has to believe they are much stronger [than in the 1991 war].”

Farther east, after announcing in December its intent to restart nuclear facilities, North Korea caught State Department analysts flat-footed when the “screw loose nukes” nation began a calibrated series of steps in that direction – which could restart their plutonium-based nuclear weapons production. (And some pundits wondered why President George Bush included North Korea in his “Axis of Evil” triad.) First, officials removed seals and surveillance cameras from nuclear reactors; a day later, similar monitoring equipment was removed from a storage pond housing over 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods and from rod processing and reprocessing facilities. Workers then began moving new fuel rods to the reactor at Yongbyon. Pyongyang then ordered the expulsion of international nuclear monitors keeping tabs on the facilities in question. Estimates are that the spent fuel rods contain roughly 30 kilograms of plutonium, enough to arm several nuclear warheads compatible with North Korea’s medium-range missiles; placing South Korea and Japan within nuclear strike range.

Inasmuch as the diplomatic stalemate over the North Korean nuclear buildup deserves attention, it should be seen as it affects the situation with Iraq. If nothing else, the growing tension between Pyongyang and Washington, Seoul and Tokyo should be interpreted as an added incentive to swiftly execute a military solution in Iraq.

South Korea and Japan – North Korea’s most likely targets of aggression – have received criticism for their reticence to engage the North militarily, and their insistence upon pursuing (indeed, exhausting) diplomatic avenues. But what else can they do? Japan’s post-WWII constitution forbids it from engaging in foreign military action, limiting the island nation to a nominal security force. South Korea is protected by the minefield at the 38th parallel and a U.S. troop presence numbering some 38,000. Neither Seoul nor Tokyo is in a position to confront a nuclear-capable North, especially as Pyongyang continues to maintain close relations with China. While a U.S. military solution has purportedly been relegated to the backburner for the present, President Bush has made clear that all options remain on the table.

Speaking of the U.S. military capability to wage two wars simultaneously, Secretary Rumsfeld was adamant: “…[W]e are capable of fighting two major regional conflicts, as the national strategy and the force-sizing construct clearly indicate. We’re capable of winning decisively in one and swiftly defeating in the case of the other. And let there be no doubt about it.”

All of this having been said, Saddam Hussein remains a far greater threat than North Korea’s Kim Jong-il. Last August, The Federalist quoted reliable sources in the intelligence community who said Iraq has already produced a number of crude weapons and will be – or has already been – using al-Qa'ida surrogates to transport one or more of those weapons to an East Coast urban center. While President Bush has not specifically made this public, he did say this week, “I think it’s important to remember that Saddam Hussein was close to having a nuclear weapon [in 1990]. We don’t know whether or not he has a nuclear weapon. … We may not know until he uses one.” In other words, we are, wisely, basing our actions on the assumption Saddam does have nuclear weapons.

The president also said, “Any attack by…a surrogate of Saddam Hussein would cripple our economy. This economy cannot…stand an attack.” The reality of the nuclear threat accounts for why American security market indices – indicators of our national economic health – declined for a third straight year in 2002, posting their worst performance in more than six decades. While the economic slump started in March of 2000, Clinton’s last year in office, signs of economic recovery appeared in the summer of 2001 – and then the al-Qa'ida attack on 9-11 of that year. Al-Qa'ida’s Osama bin Laden has promised to keep the U.S. economy in a slump with renewed acts of “spectacular” (read “nuclear”) terrorism. We believe he can and will do just that unless all the handwringers step aside and give war a chance!

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