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The U.S. plan to rescue a unitary state in Iraq with Iowa-type caucuses in 18 provinces was also doomed to failure — if only because Iraq is not Iowa. It also demonstrated one-person-one-vote elections are not the sine qua non of democracy the way they are in India, Western Europe and North America.

President Bush says, “I want the American people to know that I, too, want to know the facts” about what happened to WMDs in Iraq. Apparently, the president, too, was disinformed about WMDs being the reason he ordered U.S. troops into harm’s way. Because this was no more the provocation given by the war’s architects than the one put forward by the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that led to escalation of the Vietnam War — and 58,000 American servicemen killed in action.

North Vietnamese gunboats did not attack U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin, anymore than Saddam threatened to attack us with his nonexistent WMDs.

So the leitmotif for Operation Iraqi Freedom was not WMDs, but the freedom of Iraq in the larger context of long-range security for Israel. Mr. Bush is right to change the rationale for war to isn’t-the-world-a-better-place-without-Saddam? Of course it is. Was Iraq ever a threat to the U.S. homeland? Of course it wasn’t. But hasn’t the U.S. occupation of Iraq provided a force multiplier for al Qaeda? Of course it has. And the world is not a more peaceful place than it was before the occupation of Iraq.

The armchair strategists who pushed the war envelope in early 2002 dismissed any possibility of an insurgency after the liberation of Iraq. The entire population, according to this improvised conventional wisdom, couldn’t wait to join forces with the U.S. Now, two or three U.S. soldiers are killed every day in Iraq; some $200 billion in unbudgeted Iraqi and Afghan costs have been added to the national debt; a resurgent Taliban, fueled by the opium/heroin trade, is spreading its tentacles again in Afghanistan — all persuasive talking points for Democratic candidates on the stump.

The Bush Doctrine of pre-emption is now badly frayed at the seams. Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have stretched deployable U.S. forces, including the guards and reserves, to the point where another pre-emption campaign would break the system — and bring back the draft.

A steady stream of would-be jihadis, or Islamist holy warriors, is making its way into Iraq across the unmarked, mostly desert, borders of Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Camel caravans trekking from the Saudi kingdom all look the same, whether they are carrying dates or detonators. It was also the very same terrain Desert Storm troopers used to turn Saddam’s flank with a historic Hail Mary pass.

Saudi Arabia’s 150,000-strong army could patrol more aggressively some 400 miles of a desert border that is largely unguarded. But the Saudis now worry more about internal threats to the regime than anything happening on their far-flung borders in the Arabian Peninsula.

Iraq’s nonexistent WMDs were never a threat to anyone. But they have already struck a devastating blow to the credibility of the Bush White House. The Doctrine of pre-emption becomes inoperable without unimpeachable intelligence accepted by all as the coin of the realm.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.