February 28, 2003 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

A Sensible Inconsistency

The Scene: Secretary of State Colin Powell is explaining to the United Nations why the Bush administration believes Saddam Hussein is defying the world body and refusing to disarm. As he points to a satellite photo, he says, "No, wait-this is of a North Korean full functioning nuclear bomb plant … next slide, please."

Of course, this didn't really happen. I'm describing a Mike Lane editorial cartoon that appeared recently in the Baltimore Sun. But it highlights a lingering criticism from anti-war activists-that President Bush (wrongly, in their view) isn't willing to handle Iraq with the same diplomatic kid gloves he uses on North Korea.

This isn't an argument confined to street protesters, by the way. Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher raised it in an op-ed for The New York Times: "North Korea's startling revival of its nuclear program, coupled with the unrelenting threat of international terrorism, presents compelling reasons for President Bush to step back from his fixation on attacking Iraq and to reassess his administration's priorities."

In fact, Times columnist Maureen Dowd wonders why we're not already at war on the Korean peninsula. "Powell has all the evidence he needs to convince the U.N. Security Council that we are justified in making a pre-emptive strike on North Korea," she wrote on Feb. 2. "Only one hitch: President Bush doesn't want to attack North Korea; he wants to contain North Korea."

The reason for containment is simple, of course. North Korea has nuclear weapons.

It continued developing them during the 1990s, in direct violation of an agreement it signed with Christopher's boss, President Bill Clinton. In the event of a war, North Korea would pose a direct nuclear threat to our regional allies South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

Worse, intelligence reports indicate that Pyongyang has at least one untested missile capable of reaching the West Coast. So it makes sense to avoid confrontation with the North Koreans for now.

Iraq, on the other hand, hasn't joined the nuclear club-yet. But it's trying to.

Israel handed Saddam a major setback in 1981, when it bombed the Osirak nuclear facility his government was building near Baghdad. That forced Saddam to focus on other weapons of mass destruction, including mustard gas and sarin, which he used to kill thousands of Kurds in 1988.

Since the Gulf War ended in 1991, the United Nations has tried to restrain Iraq through sanctions and weapons inspections. But with Saddam willing to let his own people starve while he builds a clandestine weapons program, it's clear this approach won't work.

Back in November, the United Nations decided to give Iraq a final chance to disarm when it passed Resolution 1441. Iraq has been in "material breach" of that resolution since at least Dec. 7, when it submitted what was supposed to be a "full and complete" declaration of its weapons programs. That report was woefully incomplete. It added little new information and failed to account for thousands of items inspectors have been aware of for years.

That's why it's time to explore a new option, the military option, to prevent Saddam from acquiring nuclear weapons-and turning Iraq into the next North Korea.

"There is no cookie-cutter approach to foreign policy," my Heritage Foundation colleague Peter Brookes observed earlier this year. "In the Axis of Evil, one size does not fit all-nor should it."

Brookes is exactly right. Yes, we're taking a harder line on Iraq than we are on North Korea. But frankly, that's the only way to ensure that Saddam never gets that "full functioning nuclear bomb plant."

Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
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