Is Iraq next?
By Wolf Blitzer
CNN Wolf Blitzer Reports
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A group of influential lawmakers wrote to President Bush the other day with an urgent proposal. "We believe we must directly confront Saddam sooner rather than later," they said. The group included an interesting mix -- ranging from Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman to Republican Senator Jesse Helms -- with others in between, including the Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott and one-time presidential candidate, Senator John McCain. "As we work to clean up Afghanistan and destroy Al Qaeda," they said, "it is imperative that we plan to eliminate the threat from Iraq."
These kinds of Congressional letters, in my experience in Washington, are almost always carefully choreographed. While I certainly can imagine Senators Lieberman and McCain writing such a letter without any input from the White House, it's hard for me to believe that Senator Lott and Representative Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, would do so. They may not necessarily have received a green light; but they also didn't receive a red light. In other words, given their strong support of the president, I doubt they would have written such a potentially explosive letter without at least clearing its gist with someone high up in the Bush administration.
The letter argues that the Iraqis have violated the terms of the 1991 cease-fire agreement which ended the Persian Gulf War. At that time, they committed to unconditional visits by UN weapons inspection teams. Three years ago this month, the Iraqis kicked out the inspectors and they have not been allowed to return since.
"There is no doubt that since that time," the lawmakers wrote, "Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to refine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of an illicit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies."
They also say the U.S. should learn from the most recent military experience in Afghanistan. "We cannot be drawn into the ethnic politics of any particular nation, but should find a way to work with all the opposition in a unified framework… Let us maximize the likelihood of a rapid victory by beginning immediately to assist the Iraqi opposition on the ground inside Iraq by providing them money and assistance already authorized and appropriated."
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But other experts say that's a lot easier said that done. Listen to what former Pentagon official Lawrence Korb told me. "If you want to go after Saddam, you better make sure that you have a coalition to support you because just militarily, it won't be easy. And the idea that some of these opposition groups in Iraq are anywhere near like the Northern Alliance, I don't think holds up."
This debate over Iraq -- which is also taking place inside the highest levels of the Bush administration -- will intensify as the Taliban collapse continues.