COLUMBUS - Posing one of the “what ifs” surrounding a U.S. invasion of Iraq, former U.S. Sen. John Glenn yesterday expressed concern that al-Qaeda could obtain nuclear weapons by toppling Pakistan's government.
Mr. Glenn said U.S. military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power could “inflame the whole Muslim community across the world” and threaten President Pervez Musharraf's control over Pakistan.
“Then you have al-Qaeda with a whole stockpile of nuclear weapons. That's a poor trade-off to me,” Mr. Glenn said, after a speech to the Ohio Newspaper Association.
In an audiotape allegedly from Osama bin Laden broadcast last Tuesday, Pakistan was listed among the countries that Muslims should liberate through jihad.
Mr. Glenn, who was a Democratic U.S. Senator representing Ohio for 24 years, said he believes North Korea's nuclear-weapons program is a bigger threat than Iraq.
“The case against Iraq is what may happen in the future; what they might do. Is [Saddam Hussein] a real bad guy? Yeah, he is. There is no doubt about that. If we're supposed to straighten out every place in the world where there are bad guys running the government, there are probably a dozen to 15 countries we'd have to go into tomorrow,” he said.
Mr. Glenn, a former Marine Corps pilot who flew 59 missions during World War II, said he favors reviving the military draft. Young people would have an option to serve a longer period in national service such as the Peace Corps, he said.
Over the last several years, the military has enticed a lot of people to enlist from the “lower economic strata” that wanted to get training, an education, or couldn't find a job during peacetime, Mr. Glenn said.
“In a long-term conflict, they are going to be the ones who will be dying for everybody else. I think that honor should be spread equally across our whole society,” he said.
Mr. Glenn said the U.S. has done “pretty well” as a world leader over the past several decades through the post-World War II Marshall Plan, foreign aid, the Peace Corps, and attracting students from around the world.
He expressed concern that the U.S. has adopted a new policy that could lead to more nations' attempting to obtain nuclear weapons. Saying that he expects the U.S. to face terrorism for at least two decades, Mr. Glenn said the key is preventing attacks through “better intelligence” among the “civilized nations” of the world.
The U.S. always has had the ability to take the first military step if faced with an imminent threat, but now the policy has become “we're going to make a judgment about whether you will able to develop certain weapons systems and if we don't like it, we're going to take you out,” Mr. Glenn said.
If the U.S. government had pursued that policy before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it could have justified military action against South Africa, Taiwan, Argentina, Brazil, and Pakistan, he said.
Mr. Glenn, who on Feb. 20, 1962 became the first American to orbit Earth, became the oldest space traveler in 1998 when he returned on the space shuttle Discovery.
He said NASA has done a good job of providing information since the loss of the space shuttle Columbia on Feb. 1 as it prepared for landing.
On Thursday, the panel investigating the destruction of the shuttle said a hole in its aluminum skin allowed superheated gas to flow into the left wing and cause its destruction.
“If you had the tiles burn through and it got through into the aluminum structure underneath, then it could start burning that structure out,” said Mr. Glenn.
“That's why they've been trying to pick up as many of the tiles and debris as they can,” he said.
Mr. Glenn said most of the experiments in space can't be done with unmanned missions.
“People are always going to want to explore, but the reason why we have the [space] station up there is basic research that has value to people here on Earth and it's done better with people up there,” said Mr. Glenn.
He noted that his 1998 mission aboard the Discovery provided data for research on osteoporosis and immune system changes.