Will We Heed Our Own Warning?

If you were an amoral mass murderer like Saddam Hussein, and you faced certain removal and likely death as the result of an imminent U.S. invasion, how might you seek to avenge yourself?

No one has laid out the most chilling answer to this question more compellingly than President Bush did in his State of the Union address.

"Congress and the American people must recognize another threat," said Bush. "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own."

Bush fears Saddam might send agents here armed with weapons of mass destruction.

"Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans-this time armed by Saddam Hussein," said the President. "It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known."

But rest assured, he said: "We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes."

It is hard to credit this last claim. Surely, Bush is doing everything in his power to make certain Saddam disarms in Iraq. He is sending an estimated 250,000 American fighters there to make it happen. But is he doing everything in his power to make sure Iraqi-backed saboteurs, or their sympathizers, or their successors, do not get into the United States to kill people here?

The unfortunate but unavoidable verdict: No.

In a statistical report published in November, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) revealed that the Border Patrol apprehended 929,809 aliens illegally attempting to cross our Southwestern border in fiscal year 2002. The INS says that as a rule of thumb it believes that for every illegal alien it apprehends one or two more succeed in penetrating the country.

This means that in the year following the 9/11 terrorist attacks it is likely that between two and three million illegal aliens crossed into the United States-and that is just counting those that came across our Southwestern border.

Any chance a few of these were Iraqi saboteurs? Any chance a few were al Qaeda?

Illegal border crossers often bring illegal drugs. "Criminal groups operating from South America smuggle cocaine and heroin into the United States via a variety of routes, including land routes through Mexico," says a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) background paper. "Furthermore criminal groups operating from neighboring Mexico smuggle cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, amphetamine, and marijuana into the United States. These criminal groups have smuggled heroin and marijuana across the Southwest border and distributed them throughout the United States since the 1970s."

Any American can log onto the DEA website and read this information. Isn’t it at least prudent to assume Saddam has read it, too-and imagined what he could do to America if he smuggled anthrax, or something worse, across our border just as common criminals smuggle drugs?

Two ugly questions stare us in the face: Why would Saddam not take advantage of this obvious vulnerability? Why hasn’t our government done everything needed to stop it?

It could be argued that Saddam might fail to exploit this gaping whole in our defenses because he lacks agents loyal enough to him to take on the risks of infiltrating the United States with weapons of mass destruction and then using them here to commit mass murder. But if this is our safety net, it weakens to the point of collapsing in the face of the President’s assertion that Saddam consorts with al Qaeda and might hand off weapons to them. Al Qaeda terrorists will commit suicidal mass murder.

As noted elsewhere in this issue, the Justice Department has taken much unjustified criticism from liberals when it has actually succeeded in tracking down terrorists who have already entered the country. But all this good work will not matter if new terrorists can illegally cross our frontiers whenever they like.

It will profit us little if we conquer Baghdad, establish a long-term occupation force there, but leave our own borders unguarded and open to attack. Republicans now control the entire federal government. Will they defend Texas as ardently as they defend the Persian Gulf?