- The Washington Times - Monday, August 11, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

President Bush was right to confront Iraq. While the decision to go to war is in the past and cannot be reversed, the emerging consensus that it was a mistake is not. Unless we can revisit the debate over the invasion, and comprehend President Bush’s reasons for removing Saddam Hussein, we will be unprepared to debate policy toward Iran - and potentially ill-equipped to prevent Tehran from achieving the regional domination through weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which we denied Baghdad.

President Bush has often invoked the memory of Sept. 11, 2001, to justify the war in Iraq. This is understandable, but the war is widely misunderstood as a result. The conflict was based not solely on the terrorist attacks of 2001 but also on decades of bipartisan consensus on foreign policy.

As President Jimmy Carter phrased it in 1980, “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” Since that time, every U.S. president has been prepared to protect American interests in the Middle East. Recognizing the risks of Saddam Hussein, President Bill Clinton considered attacking Iraq doubtless for the same reasons as George W. Bush - concluding however that such a war would lack popular support.

The long-term challenge of the Iraqi dictator was his desire to control the vast resources of the Persian Gulf. He rightly saw that the acquisition of a nuclear capability would give him a free hand throughout the region, and a dominant role in the global economy.

We know now that by evicting the weapons inspectors in 1998, Saddam initiated a game of bluff. He would let the inspectors return if necessary, but only to certify that he had no WMD, whereupon they could be evicted again. Then he would be free of the inspections and of the sanctions for good. Uncontained, and without on-the-ground monitoring, he would quickly awaken his hibernating nuclear program and acquire WMD. His long-term intent was clear. Thus absent his removal, Saddam was on course to win the game.

When the United States and its allies entered Iraq in 2003, it was with considerable support of Americans on both sides of the political aisle. Unfortunately, such bipartisanship as there was disappeared when no WMD were found in Iraq. The minority party turned this discovery into an opportunity to fragment the nation. Rather than celebrating the overthrow of Saddam and his ambitions - including the undeniable risk of a dominant, WMD-equipped Iraq - it accused the administration of lying to create a cause for war. It was, of course, Saddam who had deceived the world, but the character of his secretive and aggressive regime was forgotten.

It is time for the nation to overcome the partisanship that has split us for the past five years. The current administration may have made errors in prosecuting the war, implementing post-Saddam renewal within Iraq, and communicating its message at home. Nevertheless, the underlying policy of protecting U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf as prosecuted by the Republican George W. Bush was in line with the long-standing bipartisan consensus as articulated clearly by Democrat Jimmy Carter and understood subsequently by both political parties.

We are about to begin the debate anew as Iran develops a capacity for WMD. The Democrats who have become so confident in opposing the Iraq war are remarkably silent about how to address the situation in Iran. When pressed, they support international negotiations and recourse to the United Nations.

But what do they believe should be the response if this policy fails? A more honest debate over the war in Iraq is the only way we will come to a clearer - and ideally more unified - answer about how to address this grave new threat ahead.

Arthur M. Borden, a retired corporate attorney and World War II army veteran, is author of “A Better Country: Why America Was Right to Confront Iraq” (Hamilton Books).

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