Sniper or Hussein, Terrorism Is the Same

Norah Vincent is a writer and a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank set up after Sept. 11 to study terrorism. Web site: www.norah

Until a sniper started felling people at random around the nation’s capital, many people thought that the Bush administration’s strongest argument for war in Iraq was as farfetched and paranoid a proposition as President Reagan’s “Star Wars.” As amazing as this may seem after the catastrophic events of Sept. 11, some people still balk at the suggestion that our nation could be held hostage by an impresario of terror who, when he consolidates his weapons of mass destruction, will use them against us indirectly by furnishing them to Al Qaeda.

We’ve gone complacent again, slipping back into blinkered denial about how real the terror threat is, especially from our old foe Saddam Hussein. According to a Fox News poll, “the level of public support for removing Saddam is at 66%, down from 72% two months ago and from a high of 77% in November 2001.”

Even Congress has equivocated on the issue. Just weeks ago, the Republican Party was split on Iraq, and leading Democrats were flaunting a dedicated opposition. Then suddenly last week, with their eyes on the prize in November (Democrats don’t want to be seen as soft on terror, and Republicans want to present a unified front), both houses of Congress came through unexpectedly with a cynical vote to approve the use of force in Iraq.


Now maybe the Beltway sharpshooter is starting to make us all a little more sensitized to the realities of living like Israelis, with terror following us to the mall, school and gas station. Perhaps the cross hairs burning holes in the back of our heads are bringing to mind the unpleasant truth about Hussein.

Some venturesome profilers and pundits are starting to make a link, suggesting that the sniper might in fact be a terrorist and not just a psycho on the loose. But most are still failing to draw the obvious parallel. Even if the sniper is not a terrorist, he is acting like one. He is giving us a strong taste of what such terrorism would be like, and how easy it would be to carry out. The panic is already widespread, and this is only one man (possibly with an accomplice) firing a single rifle shot at a time. Imagine what it would be like if the next roving killer carried smallpox, anthrax or a nuclear device in a suitcase.

Both in method and in posture, this sniper is Hussein in microcosm. In method, because he strikes without warning, just as Hussein did against the Kurds and the Kuwaitis and will do again if he obtains weapons of mass destruction. This, after all, is rule No. 1 in the terrorist’s handbook: Strike without warning in places that no one suspects, like a nightclub in Bali.

In posture, because he is anonymous in supporting terrorism, and anonymity allows him not only to go on purveying his devilry at leisure but also to escape punishment for it. Arguably, this is what Hussein has done already. He has provided refuge to fleeing Al Qaeda operatives, funneled money to Palestinian suicide bombers and quite possibly had a hand in bankrolling or otherwise abetting the Sept. 11 attacks.

Since the Gulf War, covert operations like these have allowed him to strike at the U.S. and its interests abroad with impunity. Until now, that is.

Horrific as it was, Sept. 11 induced us to learn from adversity and to be vigilant. And grisly as he may be, the sniper can teach us the same lesson about Hussein.


If we fail to learn it, we are likely to find ourselves again in the position of wishing we had responded to what, in hindsight, will seem like an obvious harbinger of catastrophe.