Jewish World Review June 19, 2006 / 23 Sivan 5766
John H. Fund
Examining the three assumptions of how the Iraqi War is failing
All three assumptions rest on shaky ground, so it is remarkable how much critics have seized on them with such fervor and certainty the very vices of which they accuse the war's supporters. Indeed, one wonders how Democrats would react if real evidence of weapons of mass destruction, say the discovery of chemical weapon shells, surfaced. Would they step back and re-evaluate their assumptions, or would they accuse the Bush administration of planting the evidence as part of a Karl Rove-inspired pre-election dirty trick? Far from politics ending at the water's edge, today's partisan battles seem to take on added ferocity when they concern foreign policy.
Let's examine the three assumptions critics of Mr. Bush's Iraq policy make:
Bush lied about Saddam being a threat. Both the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee and the independent Silberman-Robb Commission found not one case in which Bush officials, quoting the Senate committee, "attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities." Recall that both the French and German intelligence agencies also believed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Just two months before the war, the Los Angeles Times reported that chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix "disclosed troubling new details about Iraq's weapons programs and expressed frustration with what he described as Baghdad's refusal to resolve long-standing questions about efforts to produce biological and chemical weapons, as well as long-range missiles." Mr. Blix later told reporters that in his gut he felt that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. "These guys had played cat-and-mouse during the whole of the '90s, so I was suspicious of that," he told NBC's Tim Russert earlier this month. He later changed his mind when his officials uncovered no evidence of a weapons program. But the question remains: If President Bush lied about Saddam having WMD why did so many others also say the same thing at the time?
Some Democrats still believe Saddam was a threat, WMD or not. Former Nebraska senator and presidential candidate Bob Kerrey, now president of New York's New School, noted earlier this year that newly declassified documents from Saddam Hussein's office concerning a meeting between an Iraq official and Osama bin Laden show that "Saddam was a significant enemy of the United States." One document is a handwritten account of a Feb. 19, 1995, meeting between an official representative of Iraq and bin Laden, where bin Laden broached the idea of "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. The document reports that after Saddam was informed of the meeting he agreed to broadcast sermons of a radical imam, Suleiman al Ouda, requested by bin Laden. Several months later al Qaeda terrorits attacked the headquarters of the Saudi National Guard. The document specifically said the question of future cooperation "between the two parties [is] to be left according to what's open" in the future.
"I personally and strongly believe you don't have to prove that Iraq was collaborating against Osama bin Laden on the Sept. 11 attacks to prove he was an enemy and that he would collaborate with people who would do our country harm," Mr. Kerrey told the New York Sun. "This presents facts that should not be used to tie Saddam to attacks on Sept. 11. It does tie him into a circle that meant to damage the United States."
There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada rose during last week's debate to declare, "There are two things that don't exist in Iraq: cutting and running, and weapons of mass destruction." Not everyone shares his certitude.
The Iraq Survey Group, an investigative commission set up by President Bush to look at the WMD issue, released its last public report in October 2004. While it found no evidence of WMD inside Iraq, it reported that Saddam was preparing to reconstitute his WMD program "as resources became available and the constraints of sanctions decayed." According to the report, Saddam had the capability to start anthrax production within one week of making the decision to do so, and thereafter to produce more than 10 tons of weaponized anthrax a year. The congressional Office of Technology Assessment estimates that if even 200 pounds, or 1% of that amount, were released into the air over Washington, up to three million people would die.
The Iraq Survey Group report also found that the CIA had "received information about movement of material out of Iraq, including the possibility that WMD was involved." These reports "were sufficiently credible to merit further investigation" especially "given the insular and compartmented nature of the [Saddam] regime." The CIA was unable to complete its probe due to instability in Iraq, but it held out the possibility that an "unofficial" transfer of WMD might have been secretly conducted, with WMD material either shipped out of Iraq into Syria or destroyed by another country after being flown there.
Since then, the Iraq Survey Group has been inactive even though a continuing stream of credible sources have come forward with clues of where evidence of WMD material might be. Some administration officials now appear to be reluctant to investigate further, in part out of fear that any fresh discovery might lay the White House open to charges that lax U.S. security could have allowed the insurgents to get their hands on highly dangerous material. Some Pentagon officials have actively discouraged further investigations. But even with no official approval, some U.S. servicemen continue to explore promising leads about possible WMD sites or out-of-country transfers on their own. Many believe such tips will eventually bear fruit.
Then there is a vast trove of untranslated documents, recordings, videotapes and photographs captured in Iraq that have not been examined partly because of the sheer volume (36,000 boxes) and partly because of foot dragging by career bureaucrats. The few documents that have been examined have yielded some clues. ABC News has reported that 12 hours of captured recorded talks between Saddam and his cabinet officials include Saddam saying, "Terrorism is coming. I told the Americans a long time before [the 1991 Gulf War] and told the British as well . . . that in the future there will be terrorism with weapons of mass destruction." The Iraqi dictator then added that while he would not authorize such an attack, he speculated that someone else could launch a chemical, nuclear, or biological attack from a booby-trapped car.
Other sources tell me that recently translated captured documents include target lists of U.S. facilities and frequent references to WMDs in Saddam's possession. "He was either being lied to by his own officials, lying to them or he had something," one intelligence analyst told me.
No progress is being made in Iraq. Rep. Jack Murtha, the leading Democratic advocate of immediate withdrawal, is convinced that "we can't win this militarily." He told CNN last week that "we've been there three years longer than World War I, we've been longer than the Korean War and almost as long as the war in Europe." He expressed frustration that "we can't get [the president] to change direction. . . . In Beirut, President Reagan changed direction. In Somalia, President Clinton changed direction."
Most terrorism experts are agreed that the precipitous withdrawal from both places emboldened our enemies by convincing them the U.S. could always be made to back down in any conflict. Not repeating those mistakes may be reason enough to stay the course in Iraq. But Mr. Bush has other reasons.
Documents found on the computer owned by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi show he was increasingly concerned about the "bleak situation" the insurgency he led faced. "Time is beginning to be of service to the U.S. forces by allowing them to form and bolster the [Iraqi] National Guard, undertake big arrest operations, carry out a media campaign weakening the resistance's influence and presenting it as harmful to the people, [and] creat[ing] division among its ranks." He concluded by saying that the best way "to get out of this crisis is to entangle the American forces into another war. . . . We have noticed that the best of these wars is the one between the Americans and Iran."
The Zaraqwi document sure sounds like progress, an impression buttressed by the admission of an al Qaeda leader last week that his death was a grave blow to the insurgency.
Not every Democrat believes there's no progress in Iraq. Democratic strategist Bob Beckel, who managed Walter Mondale's 1984 campaign, had the honesty to tell Fox News Channel last Friday: "Yes, we're winning, but we're not winning fast enough." Imagine what would have happened if in the middle of the fight against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Franklin Roosevelt had been accused of not rolling back the Axis fast enough. Mr. Beckel went on to conclude "This war is just it's stupid politics."
Last week's less-than-edifying congressional debate on Iraq contained a lot of that. Democrats were incoherent in their opposition to a nonbinding "stay the course" resolution on Iraq. At one point, Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat, stood up and declared, "This side is not trying to go wobbly. We're trying to articulate what we think would be a better strategy for success in Iraq." After the debate no one I talked with thought the Democrats could claim "mission accomplished" on that front. A total of 42 House Democrats voted for the Iraq resolution. Only three Republicans voted against it.
That's not to say that among Republicans there wasn't political posturing along with a desire to embarrass the Democrats with the debate. The GOP-sponsored resolution itself was a disappointment. Michigan Republican Thad McCotter (who voted "present") rose "to express my profound disappointment with this resolution before us, because it is strategically nebulous, morally obtuse and woefully inadequate." He noted that the resolution merely declared that the U.S. would prevail in "the struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary." Mr. McCotter expressed dismay that the resolution "lacks the moral clarity to call the terrorists our enemy."
Given the bland and limited language of the resolution, it is astonishing that 80% of House Democrats felt compelled to vote against it. If President Bush has staked the future of his administration on the outcome in Iraq, Democrats appear to have placed their political bets on the war continuing to go badly. Given the death of Zarqawi, the formation of a unity government in Baghdad, and possible developments in the search for WMD material, that is starting to look like a risky wager.
Democrats might recall they made similar bets that they could win the political debate over Iraq in both 2002 and 2004. They lost both times, and last week's Iraq debate in Congress shouldn't give them confidence that they have any better approach in this election year.
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