Talking about the war on terrorism's "Phase 2" -- attacking Saddam Hussein's Iraq -- is a hot topic in Washington these days. But where liberals would normally be horrified by some of that talk, many now agree that Saddam must go. As RFE/RL correspondent Jeffrey Donovan reports, the 11 September terrorist attacks have blurred some political divides in America.
Washington, 3 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Buoyed by U.S. success in Afghanistan but wary of future terrorist attacks, American commentators are focusing on the war on terrorism's next big question: To attack or not to attack Iraq.
And by all appearances, there is little Hamlet-like doubting as to the answer to that question -- on either side of the political spectrum. Liberal columnists now echo their hawkish counterparts in urging the war on terrorism to be turned to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who is widely viewed as possessing weapons of mass destruction as well as the willingness to use them.
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is reportedly still divided over whether to seek to contain Saddam or oust him by force. But Bush himself warned Iraq this week to allow United Nations weapons inspectors to return or face unspecified consequences.
In other times, U.S. liberals would normally prefer that military force not be among those consequences -- and certainly some still agree. But the 11 September terrorist attacks on America have changed others.
Mansoor Ijaz is a wealthy New York financier of Pakistani origin. Inspired by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ijaz has made it his personal mission to build a dialogue with terrorists.
By the time terrorists attacked his city on 11 September, Ijaz had already spoken to dozens of them around the Islamic world in an attempt to reason with them. Ijaz had studied their "spider's web" system of financing while in Dubai. He had attended terrorist "conferences" in Khartoum. He had bridged a gap in 1997 between the U.S. and Sudan on harboring terrorists. And he had developed a ceasefire in Kashmir last year between Islamic militants and the government of India.
But something happened to him on 11 September. As he watched the World Trade Centers collapse from the balcony of his Manhattan penthouse, Ijaz realized that dialogue with some people is just not enough:
"I immediately ran out to the balcony to see, without windows, whether this was for real, and just as I went outside the second airplane hit the building. And I can tell you that it was an impulse reaction that I had. I fell to my knees and the first words out of my mouth were, 'They're here.'"
Now, after the 11 September attacks and with the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda terrorists on the run from U.S. firepower in Afghanistan, Ijaz finds himself in the same company as hawkish defense analyst Richard Perle -- at least on the question of what to do with Saddam.
Ijaz and Perle, an assistant defense secretary in the 1980s and now a consultant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, both called for ousting Saddam last week (30 November) when they spoke at a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington.
Ijaz said that Saddam's mentality was "beyond repair:"
"They [Saddam's men] are hell-bent on making sure that they acquire every type of weapon of mass destruction that they can get their hands on and they will use them. I can tell you that I have been in enough of these meetings with people with long beards, short beards, and no beards, who all have these kinds of thinking processes, they don't hesitate for a second."
Ijaz, who is a Muslim, asked skeptics to check the following on the Internet: "Go look at the picture of the helium anthrax balloon that was on the drawing board in the house of the Pakistani nuclear scientist in Kabul. And then tell me that you don't understand what these people are all about."
For his part, Perle called for using the "Afghan model" to oust Saddam: American air power coupled with Iraqi opposition ground forces -- the Kurds in the north, the Shia Muslims in the south. Perle, arguing that America's defense is more important than its popularity, said attacking Iraq should be done even at the cost of upsetting some in the international coalition on terrorism.
Perle said Saddam is loathed within his country, even among his military officers, and there would be high-level defections once an attack was under way and Saddam's ouster could be swifter than the Taliban's. He said Iraqis, much like Afghans did, would be dancing in the streets once Saddam fell.
Perle, to be sure, is viewed with trepidation in dovish quarters. Most unsettling to liberals is Perle's contention that President Bush's statement that America will not tolerate any state that harbors terrorists must be taken literally -- that is, the U.S. must not be afraid of waging war on several Middle East countries once the conflict in Afghanistan is settled.
However, Perle says that may not be necessary if the U.S. can consolidate its victory in Afghanistan and topple Saddam:
"The Syrians, the Lebanese, the Yemenese, the Somalis -- I think will decide, faced with a reasonable cost, that they no longer want to be in the terrorism business."
Ijaz is still critical of the U.S. government's approach to terrorism. He says poverty is its root cause and must be better addressed. And Ijaz urges the U.S. to engage with more "people on the ground" in so-called hostile countries, noting that in 1996 Sudan had actually offered to arrest Osama bin Laden -- the suspected mastermind of the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S. -- only to be turned down by the Clinton administration.
"We had the opportunity to do something right, and we couldn't get people at a political level to understand the value of engaging these people. They're human beings, after all. Yes, if they're prepared to destroy us or hurt us, we have to defend ourselves. But maybe we better next time go and have a look at what they are, who they are, and what their problems are before go and start lobbing cruise missiles and hitting them from afar."
Ijaz concluded that he agreed with Perle that there can be no compromise in fighting terrorists. But he said that doesn't mean you can't have a nuanced approach, where dialogue and diplomacy are used to obtain important concessions from leaders in the Islamic world.
He pointed to the way the U.S. has managed to ally itself with Pakistan in the war on terrorism as an example of such effective diplomacy.