- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2004

Iraq and weapons of mass destruction were at the center of political debate in Washington last week, but the doubts raised about their existence ignored a relevant national security question:

Was Saddam Hussein’s regime, WMDs or no WMDs, part of the terrorist threat? The evidence indicates it was.

Former weapons inspector David Kay testified he does not believe the WMDs existed — that Saddam and his thugs got rid of them (just how, no one knows) sometime between the Persian Gulf war and last year’s U.S.-led invasion that toppled his regime.

Democratic critics of President Bush’s pre-emptive military doctrine in the war on terrorism seemed positively gleeful over Mr. Kay’s testimony. But Mr. Kay said some other, far more important things in the days leading up to his Senate testimony — and in his testimony — that undercut Mr. Bush’s critics and reinforced his reasons for invading and occupying Iraq.

He told NBC’s Tom Brokaw he believed there was absolutely no question the Iraqi regime — as Mr. Bush has claimed — was “a great and gathering threat” to national security and to stability in the Middle East.

Mr. Kay also said there was no question terrorist figures were long known to be going “in and out of Iraq” and that Baghdad was one of the centers of terrorist activity, plotting and planning in the region.

During Mr. Kay’s Senate Armed Services Committee appearance, Chairman John Warner, Virginia Republican, asked if he agreed Saddam “posed an imminent threat” because of Mr. Kay’s finding research was being done on deadly poisons and new missile systems, both in violation of U.N. prohibitions.

Mr. Kay readily agreed with Mr. Warner that, as a result of Saddam’s removal from power, “the world is far safer” — because Saddam’s regime was “totally corrupt,” and there was the very real danger individual Iraqis, out for their own evil ends, might sell weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

After Afghanistan, the center of operations for Osama bin Laden’s deadly plots, Saddam’s terrorist regime was clearly next on the list of necessary military targets in the war on terrorism. To deny this is to deny Saddam Hussein’s record of war, torture, terror, genocide against his own people, payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel and his country’s habit of harboring terrorists.

All this may be dismissed out of hand by Howard Dean, Teddy Kennedy, John Kerry and the rest of their ilk, but Americans instinctively understand what was at stake and what was achieved in Mr. Bush’s war in Iraq. For them, the endless postwar debate over what happened to the weapons of mass destruction is now beside the point.

The majority of the American people have moved on. “A Washington Post-ABC News survey in December found that the public preferred Bush to the Democrats by nearly 2-to-1 to handle the situation in Iraq,” The Washington Post reported. Other surveys have found a majority still thinks toppling the Iraqi regime was the right decision.

The weapons whereabouts issue has even begun to lose its appeal among Democratic and independent voters, according to polls taken in the recent presidential nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

In Iowa, for example, only 1 in 7 Democratic voters said the war was their foremost concern — way behind the economy (29 percent) and health care (28 percent).

Even so, the failure to find big caches of weapons of mass destruction raises profound questions about U.S. intelligence and whether the CIA exaggerated or distorted its findings. Mr. Kay said there was no sign the White House pressured intelligence agencies to emphasize the weapons threat.

One explanation: The CIA had limited or uncertain data that suggested such weapons may have existed and in a different context they might have waited until they could get more information. But “in the wake of September 11, believe me, that is difficult to do,” Mr. Kay said.

Good point. After 3,000 lives had perished, there was no time to say, well, let’s wait a little longer and give our enemies the benefit of the doubt.

Also underreported or ignored altogether in the nightly news accounts of Mr. Kay’s testimony was the assertion that his weapons inspectors did not come up entirely empty-handed. “We have got evidence that they certainly could have produced small amounts” of weapons.

The bottom line is that the jury is still out on what if anything happened to such weapons, or whether they ever existed. But most Americans no longer really care at this point. Saddam was a very bad man, running a very dangerous regime in the heart of Terrorist Central in the Middle East.

Getting rid of him and his murderous accomplices was absolutely the right thing to do — even if no weapons of mass destruction ever turn up.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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