Proceed with caution

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 14, 2002

"I thought he was going to hit me, so I hit him first."

This explanation of a playground scuffle comes perilously close to the President's plans to attack Iraq and that plans' many supporters. Of course, when you are talking about the possibility of a fight involving chemical, germ and nuclear warfare instead of grubby 10-year-old fists, and when you think of the devastation of Sept. 11 as the first blow struck, the justification becomes a great deal stronger.

To attack Saddam in his stronghold is a move we cannot afford to make without considering the ramification. Ideally, the attack should have been made under the other President Bush's administration, when we were already involved in open confrontation. At that time, the hostilities were already under way and our Middle Eastern allies behind us.

Those allies are behind us now, but they are fidgeting as the Iraq-attack supposition builds. We cannot count on even those long-term friends like Egypt and Saudi Arabia if we scale an all-out war against Iraq without a just

– provable – cause. Even our European allies, like England, are hesitant to support us if we move without direct provocation. And what is the just cause? There is some proof of Saddam's involvement with the Al Qaeda and bin Laden, some suggestion that the attack on the World Trade Center originated in Baghdad. But definitive action should be withheld until the proof is more substantial, until even those allies, who share a culture and mentality with Iraq understand the need even as they did when we attacked Afghanistan.

We do not have to have their approval to wage or win this suggested war - but our fight will be much more costly, much more devastating, if it is fought alone.

Until the day comes when we go to war against Saddam, and we have no doubt that day will come, we must concentrate on prevention and security.

If we have the proof of Saddam's involvement, now is the time to present it to the world. If we can show beyond reasonable doubt Saddam's intent to wage his own war, now is the time to prove it to the world. We must fight the urge to become playground bullies even as we fight terrorism or we run the risk of becoming like those we oppose.