It’s not clear to me what the value is of perpetual rear-view mirror gazing – especially when the mirror has been warped. This op-ed is partisan in its authorship, but factual by the history I’m aware of:
Iraqis can participate in three historic elections, pass the most liberal constitution in the Arab world, and form a unity government despite terrorist attacks and provocations. Yet for some critics of the president, these are minor matters. Like swallows to Capistrano, they keep returning to the same allegations–the president misled the country in order to justify the Iraq war; his administration pressured intelligence agencies to bias their judgments; Saddam Hussein turned out to be no threat since he didn’t possess weapons of mass destruction; and helping democracy take root in the Middle East was a postwar rationalization. The problem with these charges is that they are false and can be shown to be so–and yet people continue to believe, and spread, them. Let me examine each in turn:
Because weapons of mass destruction stockpiles weren’t found, Saddam posed no threat. Howard Dean declared Iraq “was not a danger to the United States.” John Murtha asserted, “There was no threat to our national security.” Max Cleland put it this way: “Iraq was no threat. We now know that. There are no weapons of mass destruction, no nuclear weapons programs.” Yet while we did not find stockpiles of WMD in Iraq, what we did find was enough to alarm any sober-minded individual.
Upon his return from Iraq, weapons inspector David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), told the Senate: “I actually think this may be one of those cases where [Iraq under Saddam Hussein] was even more dangerous than we thought.” His statement when issuing the ISG progress report said: “We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities” that were part of “deliberate concealment efforts” that should have been declared to the U.N. And, he concluded, “Saddam, at least as judged by those scientists and other insiders who worked in his military-industrial programs, had not given up his aspirations and intentions to continue to acquire weapons of mass destruction.”
Among the key findings of the September 2004 report by Charles Duelfer, who succeeded Mr. Kay as ISG head, are that Saddam was pursuing an aggressive strategy to subvert the Oil for Food Program and to bring down U.N. sanctions through illicit finance and procurement schemes; and that Saddam intended to resume WMD efforts once U.N. sanctions were eliminated. According to Mr. Duelfer, “the guiding theme for WMD was to sustain the intellectual capacity achieved over so many years at such a great cost and to be in a position to produce again with as short a lead time as possible. . . . Virtually no senior Iraqi believed that Saddam had forsaken WMD forever. Evidence suggests that, as resources became available and the constraints of sanctions decayed, there was a direct expansion of activity that would have the effect of supporting future WMD reconstitution.”
Beyond this, Saddam’s regime was one of the most sadistic and aggressive in modern history. It started a war against Iran and used mustard gas and nerve gas. A decade later Iraq invaded Kuwait. Iraq was a massively destabilizing force in the Middle East; so long as Saddam was in power, rivers of blood were sure to follow.
If any readers wish to review the original sources referenced, such as Senate testimony, I’ll be happy to add them as an update.