Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2004 / 5 Shevat, 5764

Edward I. Koch

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Why the President was justified — David Kay or not | It may well be that weapons of mass destruction will never be found in Iraq. They may have been destroyed after the first Gulf War in 1991, or were buried in the desert or shipped out of the country.

David A. Kay, who was appointed by President Bush to search for these weapons, recently said, according to The New York Times, that, "the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies did not realize that Iraqi scientists had presented ambitious but fanciful weapons programs to Mr. Hussein and had then used the money for other purposes." If this is true, we were not the only ones duped by the Iraqis.

The United Nations Security Council passed its Resolution 1441 which unanimously threatened Iraq with serious consequences if it did not account for its weapons of mass destruction, based on the assumption that Saddam Hussein failed to destroy those weapons after the first Gulf War. Hussein's refusal to demonstrate to U.N. weapons inspectors in the weeks leading up to the second Gulf War that he had eliminated his prohibited weapons led to the assumption that he still was in possession of such weapons.

In my view, it was not necessary for President Bush to wait for absolute proof that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction to take action against him. If the President believed, based on, at the time, credible intelligence provided by the C.I.A. and the British, that Iraq had such weapons, and Saddam Hussein declined to prove he had destroyed them, that was enough to justify war. As the President stated in his 2003 State of the Union address, "Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent…If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions would come too late."

President Bush was not alone in reaching this conclusion. His predecessor, President Bill Clinton, took the same position, stating in August of 1998, "Saddam's ability to produce and deliver weapons of mass destruction…threatens the safety of his people, the stability of his region and the security of the rest of us."

In other words, the U.S. did not go into Iraq because we knew for certain that Saddam still had weapons of mass destruction — a reasonable assumption under these circumstances. We went into Iraq because we believed he may have such weapons. And after 9/11, we could not take the chance that he might use these weapons or give them to terrorists.

It continues to puzzle me that so many Americans oppose the U.S. liberation of Iraq. The anti-war camp is comprised of at least three groups. The largest is made up of those who simply hate President Bush, as their counterparts in the 1980s hated President Ronald Reagan.

The second group is aligned philosophically with the "America First" isolationist movement of 1940, which was led by hero aviator — and anti-Semite — Charles Lindbergh. Isolationists were largely responsible for keeping America neutral while Hitler conquered Europe and committed genocide against Jews, gypsies, Communists, Socialists and other minorities.

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The third group consists of pacifists who believe no war under any circumstances can be defended. During the Cold War that group's views were epitomized by the slogan, "Better red than dead."

Fortunately, most Americans believe in New Hampshire's slogan "Live free or die." Today, fundamentalist Islamic terrorists are demanding as part of their Jihad (holy war) that the U.S. and other Western countries abandon democratic ways, convert to Islam and abandon their friendships with Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. These terrorists want to replace the pro-Western governments of our Muslim allies with fundamentalist regimes. Of course, they also want us to end our support of Israel. When the Allies of yesteryear were led by FDR and Winston Churchill in World War II, they knew the choice was victory or defeat. The same is true today.

The Times article by James Risen, which quotes David A. Kay, provides the best assessment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. To summarize it would not do justice to his analysis, so I am setting forth a number of conclusions described in his own words.

What follows are excerpts from The New York Times of January 26, 2004

"'I'm personally convinced that there were not large stockpiles of newly produced weapons of mass destruction,' Dr. Kay said. 'We don't find the people, the documents or the physical plants that you would expect to find if the production was going on.

"'I think they gradually reduced stockpiles throughout the 1990's. Somewhere in the mid-1990's, the large chemical overhang of existing stockpiles was eliminated.'

"Regarding biological weapons, he said there was evidence that the Iraqis continued research and development 'right up until the end' to improve their ability to produce ricin. 'They were mostly researching better methods for weaponization,' Dr. Kay said. 'They were maintaining an infrastructure, but they didn't have large-scale production under way.'

"He added that Iraq did make an effort to restart its nuclear weapons program in 2000 and 2001, but that the evidence suggested that the program was rudimentary at best and would have taken years to rebuild, after being largely abandoned in the 1990's.

"While he urged that the hunt should continue in Iraq, he said he believed '85 percent of the significant things' have already been uncovered, and cautioned that severe looting in Iraq after Mr. Hussein was toppled in April had led to the loss of many crucial documents and other materials. That means it will be virtually impossible to ever get a complete picture of what Iraq was up to before the war, he added.

"But Dr. Kay said the C.I.A. missed the significance of the chaos in the leadership and had no idea how badly that chaos had corrupted Iraq's weapons capabilities or the threat it raised of loose scientific knowledge being handed over to terrorists. 'The system became so corrupt, and we missed that,' he said.

"In addition, Dr. Kay said, it is now clear that an American bombing campaign against Iraq in 1998 destroyed much of the remaining infrastructure in chemical weapons programs.

"The former Iraqi officers reported that no Special Republican Guard units had chemical or biological weapons, he said. But all of the officers believed that some other Special Republican Guard unit had chemical weapons.

"'They all said they didn't have it, but they thought other units had it,' Dr. Kay said. He said it appeared they were the victims of a disinformation campaign orchestrated by Mr. Hussein.

"As a result, virtually everyone in the United States intelligence community during both the Clinton and the current Bush administrations thought Iraq still had the illicit weapons, he said. And the government became a victim of its own certainty.

"Dr. Kay said he was convinced that the analysts were not pressed by the Bush administration to make certain their prewar intelligence reports conformed to a White House agenda on Iraq.

"'All the analysts I have talked to said they never felt pressured on W.M.D.,' he said. 'Everyone believed that they had W.M.D.'

"'The only comment I ever had from the president was to find the truth,'" Dr. Kay said. 'I never got any pressure to find a certain outcome.'

What all this means is that if Saddam Hussein had acted rationally, he could have avoided war. But he was not the rational leader of a nation. He was a sadistic despot who tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people and invaded other countries. He used poison gas against the Kurds and the Iranians. He set fire to more than 700 oil wells in Kuwait, creating an environmental catastrophe. The world is surely better off without him. Let's hope the effort to create a free and democratic state in Iraq is successful.

If the C.I.A. failed in its intelligence gathering responsibilities prior to the war, as is now charged by Dr. Kay, Bush's opponents should remember that the C.I.A. director, George Tenet, is a holdover from the Clinton administration. A congressional inquiry is now underway and Tenet will testify. Let the chips fall where they may.

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JWR contributor Edward I. Koch, the former mayor of New York, can be heard on Bloomberg Radio (WBBR 1130 AM) every Saturday from 9-10 am. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Edward I. Koch