Our moral duty

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

By John C. Danforth ~ From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

News reports of American casualties and shifting public opinion polls about our presence in Iraq point to the most important issue voters will decide next year: whether our nation has the resolve to stay the course and enforce the rule of law against the rule of chaos.

Many have argued that international order should be enforced by the United Nations and that no country, including our own, should take the law into its own hands. Proponents of this view include some Democratic presidential candidates, who claim that President Bush ignored the U.N. in dealing with Iraq.

In fact, the Bush administration attempted to work through the U.N., which is always the preferred course. But doing so requires that the world community stand together against rogue regimes and that U.N. Security Council members not only pass resolutions but enforce them.

Last March -- in the new and far more dangerous post-September 11 security environment -- the United States faced a stark choice:

It could allow Saddam Hussein to ignore, with impunity, the Security Council's resolutions and continue what weapons inspector David Kay has confirmed was a program that involved thousands of people over three decades.

This course was favored by those Security Council members who balked at enforcing their own Resolution 1441, which found Iraq in "material breach" of previous resolutions regarding weapons of mass destruction and threatened "serious consequences" for further non-compliance.

Or the United States could enforce 1441 with the help of coalition partners.

Next November, voters will decide which of these two options was correct.

Today, the issue remains much as it was last March. While more than 30 countries have joined, to varying degrees, our effort to restore order to post-war Iraq, others seem bound to stand on the sidelines. So we are left with only one responsible course: do the best we can with the support of the allies that are willing to meet their international obligations.

Today's threat to peace is the outbreak of unchecked madness. As dangerous as the Soviet Union was during the Cold War, its rational leaders recognized the devastating consequences that any aggression against the United States would bring to their own homeland. Neither Saddam Hussein nor Osama bin Laden nor the fanatics they lead have shown any concern for consequences.

There may be future Sept. 11s whatever we do, but there surely will be future Sept. 11s if our policy is inaction. So President Bush decided to end the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime before it could follow its own precedent of developing and using weapons of mass destruction. Now the task is to find and destroy the terrorists and regime holdouts who are targeting civilians and coalition troops.

Evening newscasts often lead with the day's account of the latest attacks by Iraqi terrorists, followed by heart-wrenching interviews with relatives of American casualties. All this takes a toll on public support.

Yet I suspect that American voters understand they face a momentous choice in the next election. The question is whether our nation has the will to continue the war on terrorism -- or whether the forces of terror and chaos will proceed to victory.

The course we are on now is undeniably difficult, but taking the easier path would bequeath a very precarious future to our children and grandchildren. We must fulfill our moral duty to confront problems today, not hand them over to future generations.

John C. Danforth of St. Louis represented Missouri in the U.S. Senate from 1976 to 1995.

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