Waiting for smoking gun is a too risky business

Thursday, February 13, 2003 at 1:00am

Secretary of State Colin Powell laid out a compelling case against Saddam Hussein last week. Yet, some people still question whether the weapons Saddam has assembled and continues to seek will be used against us. The fundamental question is whether we should await imminent disaster or act in the face of possible disaster. It is a risk calculation.

Early in life most of us learn the basic calculations of risk and reward. It is pretty simple: little risk and potentially huge reward? Good decision. Huge risk for small reward? Bad decision. The same sort of equation can be applied to the risks we face from terrorism.

But in a world where horrific weapons in terrorist hands means a miscalculation can carry devastating consequences, we must assess risk and catastrophe against a backdrop of what is possible rather than what is probable. Making the right decisions rather than waiting for terrorists to act and then responding to them is the difference in huge casualties versus prevention.

Former CIA Director Robert Gates has noted this changing equation.

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