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The First Saddam Hussein

September 10, 2002

A well-known conservative pundit, an old and dear friend, told me the other day that “Islamic fundamentalism poses a greater threat to the United States than the Soviet Union ever did.” I was amazed to hear him say this. Then I remembered the difference of our ages.

I was born in 1946; my friend was born in 1962. I was a boy of 16 when he was an infant during the Cuban missile crisis. The 9/11 attacks destroyed two buildings and damaged a third. Horrible enough, but they don’t bear comparison with the Soviet threat. In October 1962 we feared that every major American city, at any moment, might become a white-hot nuclear crater.

The Soviets had more than box-cutters. They had nuclear warheads and missiles to deliver them. They also had a willing ally in Cuba, Fidel Castro, who even now remains a ruthless Communist dictator. Today we accept him as an annoying part of the international landscape, but in his day he seemed to pose a far worse danger than most Americans can now imagine. In 1961 and afterward the Kennedy administration tried to overthrow and kill him, notably with the Bay of Pigs operation, an American-backed invasion by anti-Castro Cubans who were easily and ignominiously defeated.

The Bay of Pigs is still one of the most notorious foreign-policy disasters in American history. It was what would today be called a “pre-emptive” strike against Cuba. The Kennedy administration believed it would spark a popular overthrow of Castro; it didn’t. It merely made the United States appear to the world as a feckless aggressor. And it led, the following year, to the terrifying missile crisis that young Americans no longer remember.

On paper, the Bay of Pigs operation may have seemed like a good idea. Castro had made Cuba a hostile Communist beachhead only 90 miles from Florida. American hawks wanted to get rid of him before it became an active Soviet military base. Yet the operation backfired. The danger only increased.

[Breaker quote: Are we in for another Bay of Pigs?]Yet after the missile crisis, tensions between the United States and Cuba gradually subsided. The two governments came to regard each other with a sort of patient hatred. Castro remained a fanatical Communist (as he still is), but he was no madman. And today he is no threat at all.

Contrast Saddam Hussein with Castro. He is on the other side of the globe. At first he enjoyed U.S. support. Far from evincing hostility toward this country, he invaded Kuwait only after he thought the United States would have no serious objection to his doing so. It is the U.S. Government that has insisted on treating him as a dangerous enemy — an absurd position, since he is now unable to attack his own neighbors.

The 9/11 attacks were evidently motivated by Islamic hatred of the United States. But there is no sign that Hussein takes umbrage at real or imagined affronts to Islam; on the contrary, extreme Islamists hate his secular regime. An alliance between him and them would be awkward at best, and the Bush administration has been unable to produce evidence of such an alliance. If there is a global Islamic jihad against the United States, he is not part of it. The administration is simply seeking an excuse, however feeble, to make war on Iraq.

President Bush doesn’t act as if he is afraid of Saddam Hussein; he acts as if he is afraid of Israel. In this he is no different from most American presidents since Lyndon Johnson; oddly, his own father was one of the few recent presidents who dared to stand up to the Israelis and their lobby here. It may have cost the elder Bush his chance of re-election in 1992.

The younger Bush is afraid to rebuke the Israelis for their defiance of United Nations resolutions, afraid to say that they threaten peace in the Middle East, afraid to mention their possession of the nuclear weapons he finds so menacing in the hands of Saddam Hussein.

His silence is the measure of his fear. He would rather make war on Iraq than speak a harsh word about Ariel Sharon. His cowardice may soon lead us into a disaster that will make the Bay of Pigs look like a minor faux pas.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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