On the day Saddam Hussein falls, there will be dancing in the streets of Baghdad. The country will not implode. Military analysts will ponder a victory that was less costly than many projected. States such as Syria and Iran will proclaim their aversion to terrorism. NATO will forget its early opposition.
Now, during the prebattle period, naysayers are having their day. Why Iraq? It is no worse than others on the "axis of evil." After all, Iran has longer-range missiles and sells more weapons. North Korea may already be nuclear.
They caution against, in Al Gore's words, "wishful thinking based on best-case scenarios." Iraq is tougher than the Taliban; the Iraqi National Congress is no Northern Alliance.
And they note international concern. The Saudis have an excess of caution, and the Turks, an excess of Kurds. Impoverished Moscow and wealthy France see billions in Iraqi debt unpaid. Other European friends resent seeing their military irrelevance displayed.
For all its malfeasance, however, Iran is a society where political evolution seems plausible. North Korea plays a reckless game fueled by the paranoia of its leadership. But it has no external designs, and past conduct suggests a willingness to rein in its most troublesome programs, for a price.
Saddam's Iraq is in a class by itself. It has launched two wars against neighboring states and fired Scud missiles against a third. Saddam attempted to kill a former U.S. president and routinely violates "no-fly zones" established to limit his ability to annihilate his own people. Iraq has used chemical weapons on the battlefield and to quash domestic unrest. Saddam maintained a covert nuclear program and sought to develop biological weapons, harassing United Nation inspectors sent to enforce the ban. The compelling insight embraced by the decision to dislodge Saddam is that the war against terrorism cannot be won if the war against weapons of mass destruction is lost.
Before the Persian Gulf War, military experts exaggerated Iraqi military power. In the event, Saddam's "battle-hardened" divisions were depleted by desertion, their morale shattered by indiscipline and American bombs. Save for a lucky Scud missile that crashed into military barracks in Dhahran, the United States lost more troops to "friendly fire" than to Iraqi guns.
Today Iraq's army is even smaller, less well equipped, and less prepared than it was before the Persian Gulf War. And the U.S. advantage in highly accurate weapons—formidable then—is now overwhelming.
Nor should the comfort of friends like Saudi Arabia be controlling. Their tolerance of the antics of Osama bin Laden and other terrorists operating against anyone save the royal family has been well reported, as has the vitriolic brand of Islam taught in Saudi-financed schools. Turkey has some legitimate concerns, but they will fade if Kurdish nationalism is held in check.
As to NATO, its focus is Europe. Elsewhere, differences are common. We broke with our British and French friends over the 1956 Sinai campaign. There were differences too over Vietnam, and today, over Israel. But at the end of the day, NATO members too will cheer the fall of Saddam and relish the reduced threat his demise will signal.