As war drums beat louder, cacophany of voices grows: Its al-Qaida, not Iraq, we need to worry about

When it comes to going to war, I guess I'm old-fashioned: I like to see an act of aggression first.

By aggression I mean the real thing, a casus belli, something along the lines of one country invading another country, or one country bombing another country. This is a crucial reason why I fully, but from the earliest possible stage, supported the United States going to war against Iraq in 1991.

But now? Saddam hasn't been able to lift a finger against anybody for 12 years. Why pick him? Because he has weapons of mass destruction, or because he means to get them? Here's a list of the other countries known to possess, be in pursuit of, or have access to chemical, biological and/or nuclear weapons: Iran, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, North Korea, China, Russia, Cuba, Ethiopia, Serbia, Vietnam, Ukraine, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Romania, Myanmar, Laos, Kazakhstan, India, France, Chile, Bulgaria, Belarus, England, the United States and Israel.

If merely having weapons of mass destruction, or even just being in the process of getting them, is suddenly going to become recognized as a provocation to full-scale war, then I'd say we're opening the gates to hell. And isn't that what it feels like President Bush has done?

The U.S. is on a terror alert for fear of another megaterror attack from al-Qaida. England and Europe are in about the same condition. The Turks think Saddam may try to snuff them with his weapons of mass destruction. So do the American and British armed forces. We know how Israel is doing.

Isn't this great? Bush wants to get rid of Saddam as part of his war on terror, and the threat of terror is jumping off the charts.

Does anyone think it will subside after the bombing of Iraq begins? Does anyone even think it will subside when the Iraqi regime is gone? Will al-Qaida miss Saddam?

If a terror attack of massive dimensions occurs, might people be asking what in hell Bush is doing messing around in Iraq? And if Saddam, in his last gasp, does unleash anthrax, or smallpox, or nerve gas or God knows what on American and British soldiers, or on Turkey, or on Israel, might people have second thoughts about Gulf War II?

The threat of weapons of mass destruction is why Stalin and Mao, rapacious as they were, never made war on the United States — and vice versa. It's why Saddam didn't fire chemical or biological-laden Scuds at Israel in the Gulf War.

This is called deterrence. It works, and has worked for a long time — until Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and that whole frosty, thin-lipped bunch got control of the strongest country on earth.

They're on a mission. They're going to liberate the Iraqi people. They're going to bring democracy to Iraq. But if Saddam uses his weapons of mass destruction, the White House warns that the United States might retaliate with nuclear weapons.

So Plan A is to liberate and democratize the Iraqis. Plan B is to incinerate them.

This is traditional American hypocrisy — to present war in the wrapping of humanitarianism. To hear Bush tell it, the United States cares so much about the Iraqi people's freedom that it's willing to risk its own soldiers' lives for the cause.

Is that true? Do Americans know or care about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who died in the Gulf War and from the international embargo that followed?

For that matter, do they know or care about the 1 to 2 million Vietnamese killed in the Vietnam War? That war, too, was sweetened with talk of liberation and democracy.

The United States is now about to make its worst mistake since Vietnam — if it doesn't end up making a much worse one. There are better, safer ways than war to neutralize Saddam: inspections, sanctions, even the odd surgical bombing. That's called containment, and it, too, has worked.

Saddam's military is a shadow of its former self. His country can hardly be called sovereign anymore.

But he still has those weapons of mass destruction, or at least he's trying to get them, right?

Right, and so are 33 other countries, including both of Iraq's partners on the "axis of evil," plus several more itching to join.

And the worst evil, the most urgent threat to use WMDs, isn't even on the list. These are the folks of al-Qaida, and Bush has got their blood pumping. Meanwhile, Saddam is planning his last act.

So may God continue to bless America, and the rest of us, by stopping this madness.