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Editorial - If not now, then when?

February 10, 1998

The decision to send a Martinsburg-based unit of the West Virginia Air National Guard back to the Persian Gulf seven years after its members helped defeat Saddam Hussein should convince citizens of two things. The first is that the conflict is now at a serious point; the second is that the U.S. failure to oust the Iraqi dictator in 1991 was a mistake.

The Berkeley County unit is being sent to the Middle East because Iraq has been playing a game of cat-and-mouse with United Nations inspectors that it agreed could certify that it was not producing chemical or nuclear weapons. All of the arguing about the composition of the inspection teams and the declaration that all of the many "presidential palaces" are off limits to inspectors are what the diplomats call deliberate provocations.

But Iraq has these advantages: Time has passed, dimming the memories of Saddam's environmental terrorism in setting Kuwaiti oil wells on fire. Europeans who want to make money selling Iraqi oil would like to forget that as well, and Saddam has learned that if he puts vulnerable civilians in the probable path of any missiles, the resulting TV pictures of wailing children will turn world opinion against the U.S.

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The alternative to ousting Saddam is waiting for Iraq to attack its neighbors, including Israel, with poison gas or nuclear weapons. The U.S. can wait until that happens to retaliate, of course, but another group of innocents will have to die first.

Citizens need to ask themselves these questions: Are we willing to wait and hope that a man who's shown himself to be a merciless killer will somehow transform himself into a benevolent ruler, renouncing all thoughts of revenge and conquest? And if the U.S. does nothing now, how much better-equipped will Iraq be in another seven years, when another batch of Berkeley County soldiers is ordered to the Mideast?

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