Throughout this century, American support and determination have helped liberate many countries. But we have unfinished business, none more urgent than the regime of Saddam Hussein. Later this month, members of the united Iraqi opposition will meet in New York to hold their first national assembly. This is an important step toward liberation, which is not only inevitable but also may be imminent. Yet a certain amount of Iraq fatigue exists among policymakers. This fatigue is based on false presumptions and delays a fuller commitment to Iraq's liberation.
The first presumption is that dictators bring stability. The Arab world proves this notion's falsity. Dictators bring stasis. Stasis freezes things. And because frozen things inevitably thaw, dictatorships end not with stability but uproar. A variation on this is that without a dictatorship, Iraq would dissolve into ethnic mini-states, threatening its neighbors' stability. The performance of Iraqi soldiers in the war with Iran and the polyglot composition of Baghdad demonstrates Iraqis' strong sense of nationality.
A second presumption is that Iraq cannot practice democracy. The notion that Iraqis are deficient, that the democracy lines are missing from their DNA, is racist. Because I am a democrat with a small as well as a large D, I believe Iraqis can rule themselves better than others can rule them. I believe this based on elections in Jordan, Kuwait and Lebanon, as well as Israeli-Arab participation in Israeli politics and the participation of Arab Americans in American government.
A third presumption is that Saddam is strong. Iraq is almost certainly developing more weapons of mass destruction. But in terms of current capability against a well-armed rebel force, Saddam looks weak. He may have enough capability to terrorize lightly armed Kurds or Shia rebels--but not enough to conquer them. Iraq's air defenses are daily proven ineffective. Also, we saw in the Gulf War that few wanted to make the supreme sacrifice to follow Saddam's orders, and the many ensuing desertions suggest that little fighting spirit is to be found in the Iraqi military.
Saddam is also weak in terms of subordinates who can enforce his authority. Saddam has eliminated not only his rivals but also his more effective lieutenants. Family ties provide little insulation from Saddam's wrath; he murdered his cousin and two sons-in-law. His leadership circle has shrunk to himself and two sons. This is not a coalition that could withstand a unified, well-financed rebel movement. This is leadership that will topple.
Behind the arguments for inaction is the notion that no one cares. Some of our allies suggest we accept the Iraqi regime as it is, drop the sanctions, and accept a "less confrontational" inspection system. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine says that we are "insensitive to the human disaster underway in Iraq."
We have been callous, but not through sanctions. We have been callous by failing to support the Iraqi opposition. We have been more interested in avoiding risk than in ending the regime that used chemical weapons on its own people, invaded two of its neighbors, fired ballistic missiles at Israel and which even today embroils our military in combat operations.
The Iraq Liberation Act counters false presumptions about Iraq that have shaped the safe-sided U.S. approach. I praise the administration for putting the United States on record as opposed to Saddam's regime. I also appreciate the efforts of Frank Ricciardone, the special representative for the transition in Iraq, to unite the Iraqi opposition and coordinate U.S. policy. At the same time, I encourage the administration to act with greater boldness, especially with regard to the draw-down of defense articles for the Iraqi opposition authorized under the Iraq Liberation Act.
The liberation of Iraq is inevitable. When it comes--and the truth about Saddam's regime spills out--we will be proud of the stand we took. And if our subsequent support of Iraq leads to democracy, our pride should double. Democracies do not wage war against one another. Democracies do not allow their people to starve. A democratic Iraq will transform the Middle East, where ethnic rivalry, poverty and excessive armaments will be supplanted by security, prosperity and creative diversity.
The writer is a Democratic senator from Nebraska.