- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2004

The issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq points out the inherent problems of collecting information about covert projects in dictatorships.

Both in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war and now in Libya, intelligence agencies have been surprised to find WMD programs much further along than previously thought. Thus, it is easy to understand why, when looking at an Iraq that had already used chemical weapons on a large scale, analysts expected the worst. As David Kay told the Senate Armed Services Committee in his celebrated Jan. 28 testimony, “As I look back on the evidence, I understand [President Bush’s] decision” to go to war.

The invasion of Iraq was meant to remove the WMD threat before it could be used against the United States or its allies. President Bill Clinton’s barrage of cruise missiles against suspected Iraqi research and production sites in 1998 had also been an act of pre-emption.

Missile strikes, however, could only disrupt and delay deployment, they could not put an end to the threat. Only removal of Saddam’s regime could change the strategic environment. Mr. Bush’s action accomplished that goal. American troops were not attacked by WMDs as they advanced on Baghdad, thus proving the wisdom of pre-emption.

How to improve intelligence collection and analysis is a perennial question. As Aristotle noted in ancient times, “War, as the saying goes, is full of false alarms.” Many on the left, which includes the leading Democratic presidential aspirants, are not concerned with improving the CIA, but only in making political points about the origins of the war.

Yet, no one proposes Saddam be released from custody with an apology and reinstated as the tyrant of Baghdad. Everyone knows removing Saddam from power was a good thing.

Even Howard Dean, who built his campaign on the antiwar issue, said on “Meet the Press” Feb. 1, “Until we leave a stabilized Iraq behind — and that’s got to be the goal now that we’re there — I’d love to be able to tell all my supporters, most of whom are very antiwar, that I’d bring them out tomorrow. It’s just not true. You can’t do that. It’s not responsible. We have to be responsible to national security.”

So the real issue is where does U.S. policy go from here, and what are the core differences between President George W. Bush and his Democratic opponents?

Critics of the Iraq war continue to argue that the war was “illegal” because there was no prior United Nations approval. This is the basis of the charge that the United States was acting “unilaterally” despite formation of a sizeable “coalition of the willing” that could get the job done, when a deeply divided U.N. could not.

President Bush met this argument very effectively in his State of the Union address when he said, “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country.” Any president who deferred his authority to the U.N. would be abrogating the responsibilities of his office.

Yet, the Iraq plan of Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, says: “First, go back to the international community and to the United Nations and offer a real partnership in Iraq. We need a new Security Council resolution to give the United Nations authority in the rebuilding process and the development of a new Iraqi constitution and government. Ambassador [Paul] Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority should be sincerely thanked for their service — and replaced by a U.N. Special Representative in Iraq.”

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards wants to “Involve our allies, the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in establishing a free Iraqi government with legitimacy in the region and around the world.” Mr. Dean says “authority in Iraq should be transferred to an international body approved by the U.N. Security Council.”

Only Wesley Clark, who as an Army general experienced firsthand the incompetence of the U.N. in the Balkans, has acknowledged that “the United Nations is neither able nor willing to assume the daunting task of governing Iraq.”

Mr. Clark has opted for an expanded coalition solution, involving a NATO military command and an “Iraqi Reconstruction and Democracy Council” with representatives from the European Union and Arab states joining U.S. officials.

Behind these proposals is the hard left’s distaste for American leadership in the world. Mr. Kerry has said the U.S. should not “hoard the power” in Iraq, while Mr. Edwards has accused the U.S. of creating a “puppet government” there.

Mr. Clark wants to end “the American monopoly” whereas Mr. Dean’s core supporters are filled with “anti-imperialists.” The U.S.-led coalition has, however, paid the price in blood and treasure to liberate Iraq and has thus earned the right to shape its future in accord with its interests.

Involving the U.N., the European Union or even NATO would bring into Iraq states with conflicting interests and a history of opposing U.S. policy in the region. These old institutions were formed for very different reasons and cannot be easily adapted to Iraq. Their memberships have grown too large and become too diverse to be effective.

President Bush’s forming of a new coalition specifically tailored to the current crisis is the only practical course to provide for coordinated action and protection of American interests. This difference in approach, based on alternative views of America’s role in the world, should be central to the debate on foreign policy.

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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