Friday, February 6, 2004

Can one make the case President George W. Bush “lied” or “misled” or intentionally “mischaracterized” the intelligence on Iraq and WMD in order to lead us to war? Sure, if one possesses a visceral anti-Bush mindset coupled with a willingness to ignore powerful arguments in favor of the war:

• Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, during a press conference last week, said “Many months before [the] Iraqi action, I met [the] predecessor of [chief U.N. weapons inspector] Hans Blix in Warsaw…. He told me [a] very important thing: that Saddam had these weapons or is ready to produce these weapons. Because to have such [an] impression that he has mass destruction weapons is a part of his doctrine, to keep… power in Iraq and to be strong in the region. So I think it’s very difficult today to judge how it was when he… decided to continue this project of mass destruction weapons…. Absolutely, Iraq is ready to produce if it’s necessary to keep the power of and dictatorship of Saddam and to play such [an] important role in the region.”

• In October 2003, months after the Iraq war began, former President Bill Clinton visited Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso. Mr. Durao Barroso said, “When Clinton was here recently, he told me he was absolutely convinced, given his years in the White House and the access to privileged information which he had, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction until the end of the Saddam regime.”

• French President Jacques Chirac, in February 2003, spoke about “the probable possession of weapons of mass destruction by an uncontrollable country, Iraq,” noting “the international community is right… in having decided that Iraq should be disarmed.”

c Former Clinton CIA Director R. James Woolsey, in a Wall Street Journal article, made several points — that Saddam possibly intentionally misled the world into thinking he still possessed WMDs to keep his status as a power player in the region; that stockpiles of WMDs possibly remained only to be destroyed at the last minute; that WMD-related material “probably” entered Syria months before the war; that Iraq admitted making 8,500 liters (8.5 tons) of anthrax, which if reduced to powder, could fill a dozen easily portable suitcases; and that “Iraq’s ties with terrorist groups in the ‘90s are clear,” with a decade worth of connections between Iraq and al Qaeda, “including training in poisons, gases, and explosives.”

• Weapons hunter David Kay, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that based on the prewar intelligence, Saddam Hussein posed “a gathering, serious threat to the world.” Saddam’s scientists possibly misled the former dictator into believing Iraq possessed WMDs, with the scientists possibly misappropriating funds. Mr. Kay also said that, based on his investigation, Iraq posed an even greater danger than previously thought.

• Former President Bill Clinton on Dec. 16, 1998, said: “Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. With Saddam, there is one big difference: He has used them. Not once, but repeatedly. Unleashing chemical weapons against Iranian troops during a decade-long war. Not only against soldiers, but against civilians, firing Scud missiles at the citizens of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Iran. And not only against a foreign enemy, but even against his own people, gassing Kurdish civilians in Northern Iraq…. I have no doubt today, that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.”

• Mr. Clinton, in an appearance on “Larry King Live” last July 22, said: “It is incontestable that on the day I left office, there were unaccounted-for stocks of biological and chemical weapons. We might have destroyed them in ‘98. We tried to, but we sure as heck didn’t know it because we never got to go back there.”

The near-pathological contempt so many hold for President Bush clouds their ability to put themselves in the commander in chief’s shoes. On September 11, 2001, more than 3,000 people lost their lives in terrorist attacks in America. Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein continued to defy United Nations Security Council resolutions to come clean. He flouted the U.N.-sponsored Oil-for-Food program, diverting the money from its intended purpose.

Critics quite properly accuse the U.S. intelligence community for failing to connect the dots and thus prevent September 11. After the first Gulf war in 1991, the advanced nature of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program shocked intelligence analysts. Nuclear bomb testing in India and Pakistan came as a surprise, as did the advanced nature of Iran’s and Libya’s WMDs programs. By all means, the U.S. intelligence failures call for serious soul-searching, and possibly housekeeping to improve accuracy.

But, in the case of prewar Iraq, the president’s critics suggest the following: Cross your fingers, hope for the best, and run the risk of another attack on American soil, this time possibly with chemical or biological weapons. No, the president acted upon the best available information and properly discharged his responsibility as commander in chief.

Larry Elder is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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