- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Bush was right to invade Iraq. His 2003 decision to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein will go down in history as one of the most courageous acts of statesmanship of the early 21st century.

Contrary to the claims of antiwar critics, Mr. Bush did not manipulate the intelligence to justify the Iraq invasion, nor has he waged the “wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

It was longstanding U.S. policy throughout the 1990s to champion regime change in Iraq. The Clinton administration - backed by Congress - supported the Iraq Liberation Act, which authorized the overthrow of Saddam. The United States was convinced the Iraqi strongman possessed chemical and biological weapons, as well as an advanced nuclear program. Saddam had used chemical weapons in the 1980s during his war with Iran. He also used them against Iraq´s Kurds, killing thousands. Despite countless United Nations resolutions insisting Saddam completely dismantle and verifiably dispose his weapons of mass destruction, the Butcher of Baghdad embarked upon a deliberate policy of deceit and obfuscation. Thumbing his nose at the international community, he effectively kicked out U.N. weapons inspectors.

In 1998, President Clinton responded by launching Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing campaign that targeted Iraq´s command-and-control facilities. “You allow someone like Saddam Hussein to get nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, biological weapons. How many people is he going to kill with such weapons?” said then-Vice President Al Gore. “We are not going to allow him to succeed.”

Hence, it was not Mr. Bush who made it a national priority to depose Saddam; it was a bipartisan foreign policy consensus. Moreover, the CIA and nearly every foreign intelligence agency believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Iraqi tyrant posed a clear and present danger to America´s security. The policy of containment was crumbling. Through the corruption of the U.N.´s oil-for-food program, Saddam accumulated more than $21 billion in kickbacks and pay-offs. This large personal fortune enabled him to rebuild his military. Saddam was more than simply a kleptocratic despot: He was a pan-Arab fascist, who sought to dominate the Middle East and assist the forces of Islamic terrorism in their jihad against America (and Israel).

Saddam erected a totalitarian state and murdered more than 2 million Iraqis. He crushed political dissent. He waged wars of aggression against Iran and Kuwait. He sought to assassinate the elder President Bush in 1993. He was the only world leader to publicly celebrate the Sept. 11 attacks. He provided a safe haven to key al Qaeda operatives, such as Abu Musab Zarqawi. His intelligence services financed Ansar al-Islam, a radical Islamic terrorist group whose members were being trained in al Qaeda-run camps in Afghanistan. His regime cooperated with jihadists in Somalia who sought to murder Americans. In short, Saddam´s Iraq had forged an unholy alliance with Islamists bent on destroying America.

The fact that WMDs were never found in Iraq doesn´t mean Saddam never had them - it just means they were never found. David Kay, the head of the Iraq Survey Group, which was tasked to find the WMD stockpiles, said he discovered evidence some WMDs were transported to Syria. In the lead-up to the war, U.S. intelligence satellite photos also showed convoys of Iraqi trucks crossing the Syrian border.

But even if Saddam had eliminated his stockpiles, removing him from power was still the necessary - and right - thing to do. As the Iraqi tyrant later confessed to FBI interrogators, he planned to resume his WMD programs, especially his nuclear weapons project, once international sanctions had collapsed. His programs were still largely intact. He also possessed the equipment to reconstitute a full-fledged WMD arsenal. Mr. Kay testified to the Senate that the Iraqi regime was scheming to sell valuable WMD know-how to the highest bidder - including terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. It was only a matter of time before Saddam re-emerged as a grave international threat.

Mr. Bush did the United States and the world a favor by overthrowing Saddam. America´s action liberated 27 million Iraqis from totalitarian rule; removed a regional menace; drove a stake into the heart of a murky network of Islamists and their state sponsors; and established a liberal democracy that has the potential to transform the Arab world.

Mr. Bush is similar to President Harry Truman: a national-security hawk willing to stand up to America´s enemies. Truman confronted Soviet communism and fought an unpopular but necessary war in Korea. Mr. Bush has laid the groundwork to defeat Islamic fascism.

Just as Truman was vilified in his own age but later acknowledged to be a brave visionary, Mr. Bush eventually will also be vindicated. Iraq is the right war in the right place at the right time.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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