WASHINGTON — Since Sept. 11, we've been in a war with global dimensions. It's really World War III. Yet I've not seen it described as such. Indeed, even as the president reorganizes the government to cope better with the terrorist threat, and as he indicates he's considering an attack against Iraq, the public is going about life in a near business-as-usual manner.
It's strange, this war. Indeed, some pollsters are telling us that the public is more preoccupied with the lagging economy than with the war.
So, does the president have to do a big sales job now if he wants the public behind him when and if he decides to move forward to topple Saddam Hussein?
I don't think so. The polls show the American people support the way Mr. Bush has been handling this war. Their attention may have strayed to other subjects after the invasion of Afghanistan.
But if Bush tells us that President Hussein, who has already used chemical weapons against Iran, must be eliminated before he has nuclear weapons and becomes a nuclear terrorist threat, I think most of us will be right behind him.
Certainly, the president should talk to us about how Iraq poses a great danger. And, as some leaders are recommending, including Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, he probably should get Congress's support before launching an attack.
Indeed, Bush has said he welcomes a "debate" on Iraq from those in Congress and from the public. But he has made it clear that he will make his decision based on what his intelligence people are telling him.
How much evidence of a nuclear-weapon buildup will Bush require? He may well have in mind the Cuban missile crisis and how late it was when President Kennedy got aerial pictures of the Soviets bringing in and setting up missiles in Cuba and how, by that time, it was too late to prevent a confrontation that nearly ended in disaster.
So if Bush brings about this preemptive war, he won't necessarily have positive proof of what Mr. Hussein is doing in the development of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. But he may simply decide that such a leader, who has shown in the past he is irresponsible in the use of forbidden weapons, is because he resists inspection likely moving ahead with his building of such weapons in secrecy, and that it's time to remove him from leadership. Bush can argue that Kennedy's example shows that if you wait for conclusive evidence, it could be too late.
Remember, Bush said in response to the Sept. 11 attack that he was not only going after terrorists but also targeting nations that "harbored" terrorists.
It was clear from what those around Bush were saying at that time that Saddam Hussein was perceived by this administration as a leader who had harbored terrorists and provided them with weapons.
But the president went after Afghanistan first, perhaps delaying an attack on Iraq till he had more proof of Hussein's ties with Al Qaeda. Just a few days ago, US intelligence disclosed that a handful of ranking Al Qaeda members have taken refuge from Afghanistan in Iraq. This new information could give the president all the proof he needs that Hussein is harboring terrorists.
So the debate over the possible, if not likely, attack of Iraq goes on.
We hear leaders in Congress and former advisers of presidents discuss the subject. Mostly they aren't saying the attack shouldn't take place; it's usually cautionary advice to the president about being fully prepared for what might be a most difficult and bloody battle and being very sure he keeps the Congress and the American people informed on the Iraq threat.
As I mentioned before, I remember how emotional and widespread the debate was over whether we should go to war in World War II. The heated argument went on and on in Congress, in our homes, on the street.
But now? All I'm hearing or seeing of the debate is in editorials or on TV. There is, as yet, no evidence of a storm of public controversy. Bush, it seems to me, has the green light.