Amid today's swirl of diplomatic and political activity over Iraq, one easily could forget what is at stake: the neutralization of Saddam Hussein's current or potential capacity to exterminate human beings in numbers exceeding four, five, or even six digits.
In his stirring speech from Ellis Island this September 11, President Bush discussed "weapons of mass murder." This phrase, which I have promoted since last July, is far more gripping than the bloodless "weapons of mass destruction." America's enemies do not wish to demolish vacant parking structures at 4:30 A.M. They want to turn thousands of Americans and our friends into corpses - preferably in broad daylight. Retiring the now cliched "WMD" and detailing the dangers of weapons of mass murder should help nervous congressmen and invertebrate foreign leaders understand the importance of pacifying Iraq.
What, specifically, would such weapons do? The Bush Administration vaguely discusses the unholy trinity of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Defense scholars aside, most people have no clue how such devices could affect their lives.
Dexter Ingram, a Heritage Foundation threat assessment analyst, ponders doomsday scenarios for a living. While a U.S. Navy flight officer, he managed nuclear contingency plans. Today, he uses the Consequence Assessment Tool Set to forecast the havoc that weapons of mass murder could unleash anywhere on Earth.
CATS generates conservative estimates. This non-classified Pentagon computer model predicts only the number of 18- to 25-year-old males who such weapons would affect. This is neither ageist nor sexist. "It's a military model designed for combat use," Ingram explains, "and those are the types of people who will be on the front lines, for the most part." Add females to males below 17 and above 26, and casualty figures climb.
I asked Ingram to envision a VX nerve gas attack on San Francisco. CATS' default scenario assumes that an aircraft, perhaps a crop duster, sprays 264 pounds of this chemical weapon over the city while people are home. At least 530 previously-described men would be killed. People outside that demographic would boost the death toll, as would an assault at rush hour or on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Symptoms include nightmares, salivation, vomiting, involuntary urination and respiratory failure.
What if airborne terrorists exposed Chicago to 440 pounds of botulinum toxin, "the single most poisonous substance known," according to the Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies? Conservatively, some 22,000 such males would be killed, along with many others. This biological weapon produces slurred speech, double vision, gastrointestinal distress, muscle paralysis and respiratory arrest.
Even worse, consider the detonation in Berlin of a three kiloton atomic device — like one of those "suitcase nukes" that vanished as the Soviet Union unraveled. At least 150,00 designated males would be killed. Over 100,000 more would suffer non-lethal radiation sickness, although cancer would strike many of them later. Birth defects also would harm their future children. Other Berliners would suffer and die in similar numbers.
While Heritage relies on models, Hussein prefers the real thing. He pays the families of West Bank homicide bombers bonuses of $25,000 each. Czech officials insist that 9-11 ringleader Mohamed Atta met in April 2001 with Iraqi embassy intelligence agent Ahmed Al-Ani in Prague. In March 1988, Hussein aerially bombarded Kurds in Halabja, Iraq. Mustard gas, nerve gas and cyanide killed more than 6,000, Amnesty International concluded. (The survivors should tell their stories publicly at the White House.)
During the Gulf War, journalists Tom Mangold and Jeff Goldberg report, Hussein possessed 100 bombs, 16 Scud warheads and several 122 mm rockets, all filled with botulinum toxin.
John Chapman of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies said September 9 that if the dictator who already has invaded Iran and Kuwait "were able to obtain fissile material from abroad, steal it or buy it some way, we certainly believe he has the ability to put together a nuclear weapon very quickly, in a matter of months." Remember, Hussein previously has fired Scuds at Bahrain, Iran, Israel, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
America and its allies could wait and see what Saddam Hussein does next. But inaction has its costs. As national security advisor Condoleezza Rice crisply states: "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."