America in a Role Befitting Gulliver

Article excerpt

One of the most enduring images in English literature is that of Jonathan Swift's Lemuel Gulliver, a seagoing physician who finds himself incapacitated when bound by threads in the hands of Lilliputians 6 inches tall.

Today, it seems that the United States is, like Gulliver, at risk of becoming an impotent giant - one whose power is being steadily dissipated and derided by those at home and abroad who seem indifferent to the dangers that will attend a loss of American sovereignty and influence.

The week began with the Clinton administration's spokesmen and apologists enthusing on the Sunday morning talk shows about the prospects for a negotiated solution with Saddam Hussein. United States Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson argued anew for what once has been called a "little carrot" for Saddam, in the form of increased Iraqi authority to sell oil-for-food. George Stephanopoulos, the former Clinton senior adviser-turned-pundit who recently called for Saddam's assassination, pronounced himself satisfied with the present standoff. Such statements, of course, amount to little more than rationalizations for the president's unwillingness to use force effectively for the purpose of toppling the Iraqi despot.

The administration would have us believe that the decisive argument against such use was opposition expressed by states in the region friendly to the United States. If true, this would be a classic example of wrongheadedly subordinating vital American (and allied) interests to the uncertain trumpets of those described as pro-Western Arabs. (Such a course is all the more ill-advised insofar as these states appear less opposed to removing Saddam from power than they are concerned that the United States will fail to make the necessary, sustained, effort to achieve that goal.)

A new and potentially even more paralyzing concern, however, arises from uncertainties concerning the size and disposition of Saddam Hussein's arsenal of chemical and biological weapons: They are beginning to exercise a deterrent effect on the United States. Public remarks by Defense Secretary William Cohen, a newly released, unclassified Pentagon report concerning the threat posed by proliferation and leaked details about the Iraqi biological weapons program all suggest that the quantities of anthrax and botulism squirreled away by Saddam's regime, to say nothing of the VX gas, constitute a real and present danger to America's allies, forces and people.

Just how much of a danger is reportedly a prime focus of an analysis released yesterday by the blue-ribbon National Defense Panel. According to press accounts available at this writing, the panel -commissioned by Congress to provide a second-opinion about the Pentagon's status quo-minded Quadrennial Defense Review - concluded that the United States is grievously ill-prepared to deal with attacks involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

This is so, despite a relatively concerted effort at WMD protection by the military in the wake of Operation Desert Storm. In fact, Jane's Defense Weekly Online reported on Nov. 12, 1997, that "the Defense Department's Joint Program Office for Biological Defense recently estimated that an anthrax attack alone would result in tens of thousands of casualties in theater and leave warfighting strength at just over 30 percent."

The vulnerability of the United States' civilian population, however, makes the armed forces, by contrast, appear practically immune to the effects of biological or chemical attack. …