- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

“The Gathering Storm”: Winston Churchill’s title for the first volume of his magnificent World War II history. The book chronicles the West’s sorry path through the 1930s, the decade where — despite the League of Nations — Imperial Japan raped China and Benito Mussolini’s Italian Fascists savaged Ethiopia.

Adolf Hitler’s rise and the democracies’ spinelessness compelled Churchill to give the volume this theme: “How the English-speaking peoples through their unwisdom, carelessness and good nature allowed the wicked to rearm.”

Politically correct profs will no doubt drub Winnie for emphasizing English speakers, but that fool’s slam is a weak critique indeed. Early on, Churchill had the big “intelligence” picture and the dire consequences of Western weakness chillingly correct.

President George W. Bush’s September 2002 U.N. speech echoed Churchill when Mr. Bush called Saddam Hussein a “grave and gathering danger” — a threat over time.

Mr. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech extended the point: “Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.”

David Kay’s Iraq Survey Group’s interim report found no unconventional weapons, though it exposed chemical and biological programs and attempts to acquire long-range missiles. U.N. Resolution 687 required Saddam to ditch programs as well as stockpiles. Mr. Kay showed he didn’t. Why?

Saddam never lost the will to kill en masse. That’s beyond dispute. Saddam killed Iraqis and Iranians with gas. His Kuwait invasion kicked off a 12-year war with America. When Saddam thought he had the drop, no one was safe.

If the Saddam War were the only long war vexing America, enforced sanctions might have kept him caged. The corrupted U.N. Oil for Food program, however, gave him a sanctions-defying lifeline as a second conflict accelerated, al Qaeda’s war on America.

September 11, 2001, proved “cult of martyrdom” terrorists in 767s are ballistic missiles, a form of long-range strike. Add gas or nukes, and millions die.

The Pentagon believed Iraq could use chemicals against allied troops. Iraq had stored chemical munitions in conventional ammo dumps. Cautious analysts concluded U.S. troops might face battlefield gas. Mr. Kay’s survey indicates intel got that wrong. From a private first class’ viewpoint, that’s a good thing to get wrong.

Intel is never perfect and rarely certain. Those who argue it should precede action are exemplars of Churchill’s “unwisdom.” Pathetic Neville Chamberlain waited for absolute proof of Hitler’s perfidy. He got it — Nazi Blitzkrieg.

Smart enemies hide “proof,” so intel analysts probe “indications” and make educated assessments. Analyses are bound to conflict. That doesn’t make the mistaken analysis a lie.

Mr. Kay’s report supports former U.N. Iraq inspector Rolf Ekeus’ March 2000 assessment of Saddam’s stockpile in Arms Control Today: “In my view, there are no large quantities of [chem and bio] weapons. … Iraq has been aiming to keep the capability to start up production immediately.” He said Iraq saw the weapons “as tactical [battlefield] assets.” In 2000, however, Ekeus hadn’t seen September 11. “Tactical” nerve weapons in terrorist hands are strategic weapons for gassing Manhattan — and a practiced killer like Saddam certainly understood that.

The Bush administration had to end the Saddam War in order to defeat al Qaeda at its root — the Middle East’s sick autocracies. The administration articulated this strategic rationale prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, though not often enough. However, to dismiss the tyrant’s long-term intent to acquire weapons of mass destruction as no cause for toppling him is malignant “unwisdom.” September 11 necessarily reshaped all intelligence assessment, first with the freight of fear but ultimately with the weight of responsibility. After September 11, Washington would have been unforgivably irresponsible to bet a million lives on a mass murderer’s “good faith.”

Churchill’s history mentions German schemes to evade Treaty of Versailles sanctions. “Illegal” soldiers trained in secret programs to slip army manpower caps. The West caved on Versailles, and these troops quickly expanded the Wehrmacht.

When Hitler struck Poland, the “hidden men” were the core of his war machine.

Austin Bay is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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