- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2004

The conventional wisdom is President Bush’s handling of Iraq is a major negative on his re-election resume that he must explain and justify in his convention speech.

I recognize Democrats and the media have created the perception Iraq has been a disaster. But despite the many problems there, I reject that conclusion.

Mr. Bush not only was justified in going to war against Iraq; he had a duty to do so. All the world’s intelligence services, not just our own, were convinced Saddam was developing weapons of mass destruciton (WMD). Saddam repeatedly violated U.N. resolutions, defied weapons inspectors and filed a phony 12,000-page WMD compliance report, thereby deliberately failing to meet his burden of proving he had destroyed the WMDs we know he once had — and used.

He shot at our planes in no-fly zones, harbored terrorists and subsidized families of Palestinian suicide bombers. He had ties with al Qaeda (I didn’t say with September 11) and an abiding hatred of America, on which he declared war, lest we forget.

Prosecution of the first phase of the war was virtually flawless, as wars go. We removed Saddam quickly, with minimal casualties and with precision-smart bombs designed to minimize civilian casualties and collateral destruction.

We then began rebuilding the infrastructure and helping Iraq transition to self-rule. All kinds of positive things have been done every day, from feeding the people to improving education — things we rarely see in the mainstream media.

We have helped democratize a brutal, tyrannical regime in the Middle East. Is that not headline-worthy? Is that not something a president should be able to boast about in his re-election bid?

Not so fast, you say. We are in a quagmire now. We didn’t anticipate the war’s second phase. “President Bush didn’t,” says John Kerry, “have a plan to win the peace” — whatever that means.

Even Mr. Bush, say his critics, is now admits he made serious mistakes failing to anticipate the resistance faced after the first phase of the war. But let’s look at what he actually said.

He told Time magazine: “I was convinced you were trying to force me to say it was a mistake to go into Iraq, which I wasn’t going to do. Had we had to do it over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success — being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day. I couldn’t have sat down and said to you, ‘By the way, we’re going to be so victorious so quickly that we’ll end up having to fight another third of the Ba’athists over the next year in order to bring liberty to the country.’ ”

Yes, the president said he didn’t anticipate our incredible military success would cause the religious fanatics to collapse into the cities and then mount a second phase of resistance. But as I read it, he was also saying no one could have anticipated these events. And indeed, no one could have.

Even if we had anticipated international terrorists and local religious fanatics would try to disrupt our effort to rebuild and democratize Iraq, how could we have avoided it?

The assumption seems to be we could have avoided American casualties if we had planned better. But we’ve been engaged in this second phase for more than a year, and we’re still sustaining casualties. Doesn’t that alone tell you we couldn’t have avoided all casualties no matter how well we planned?

Our armchair quarterbacks constantly hold our intelligence agencies and our military to impossibly high standards. No matter how much we always want to blame ourselves, we will not be able to prevent all terrorist attacks or all war casualties.

We are up against an enemy with no conscience, which targets civilians, uses civilians and mosques as shields and engages in urban guerrilla warfare. No matter how prescient our planning, we would have had to face the same enemy and tactics.

If we don’t have the stomach to endure the inevitable difficulties we have faced in Iraq, will be be able to endure the war on terror over the long haul? We must quit beating ourselves up and reorient ourselves to the difficulties of war.

Meanwhile, let’s reject the media line Iraq is an asterisk on Mr. Bush’s foreign policy resume and cut him a little slack.

David Limbaugh is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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