January 14, 2004 | Scripps Howard News Service

The Imperfect Storm: Anti-war Warriors Cloud Recent History

President Bush has made his share of enemies – political, ideological, personal and stylistic. These opponents now appear to have joined together in an ad hoc alliance bent on proving that the President – in the words of Al Franken, chairman of the Hollywood branch of the coalition – is a “lying liar” who fooled Americans into supporting an unjustifiable military intervention in Iraq.

This narrative is being driven in a flurry of articles in liberal publications, a pseudo-documentary film from the left-wing advocacy group, MoveOn.org, in reports from such pro-Democratic think tanks as the Center for American Progress and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and by a former Democratic Senate staffer now teaching at the Army War College. And, most recently, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill piled on in interviews with CBS News' 60 Minutes, in Time magazine and in a new book 

Taken together, it seems like the perfect storm blowing through the White House. Taken apart, these arguments dissolve like morning mist.

For example, what the Washington Post terms “among the most serious charges” made by Mr. O'Neill is this: That President Bush was considering regime change in Iraq before Sept. 11, 2001.

We should hope so. After all, in 1998, President Clinton signed the “Iraq Liberation Act” making regime change in Iraq the official policy of the U.S. government. The only question was how best (and how quickly) to accomplish that goal.

Here's another shocker. Mr. O'Neill told 60 Minutes: “From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go.” Well … yes.

Saddam had twice invaded his neighbors, used chemical weapons to commit genocide against the Iraqi Kurds, ethnically cleansed the Marsh Arabs, maintained terrorist training camps, tried to assassinate a former U.S. president, threatened to take revenge on America, was shooting at American aircraft over Iraq's “no-fly” zones, was sending money to Palestinian terrorists, and had violated more than a dozen UN resolutions agreed to in exchange for the 1991 ceasefire. What's more, he had forced out UN weapons inspectors, and every major intelligence service in the world was convinced he was continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction.

As Stuart Cohen, a career CIA employee and Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council recently told ABC's Ted Koppel in a rare interview: “We were concerned about unconventional delivery of chemical and biological weapons.  The ability of Iraqi intelligence agencies to perhaps bring something in undetected. And use it.”

If President Bush saw those dots, connected them, and came up with the picture of “a bad person” who “needed to go,” that sounds like a good day's work.

The President was not alone in reaching such conclusions. In March 2002 Kenneth Pollack, President Clinton's Director of Gulf Affairs on the National Security Council, warned that the policy of “containment” was failing. “The last two years have witnessed a dramatic erosion of the constraints on the Iraqi regime,” he wrote in Foreign Affairs. “If no more serious action is taken, the United States and the world at large may soon confront a nuclear-armed Saddam.”

Almost exactly one year ago, The New York Times editorialized on the wisdom of such serious action, noting the conceptual link between Saddam and 9/11, while also making clear that the problem was not an “imminent” threat from warehouses full of WMD. Rather, the goal was to prevent Saddam from obtaining capabilities to match his intentions.

“It's not surprising that in the wake of Sept. 11, the president would want to make the world safer,” the Times opined on Feb. 23, 2003, “and that one of his top priorities would be eliminating Iraq's ability to create biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.”

Which is precisely what the US has done in Iraq: eliminated Saddam's “ability to create biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.” Mission accomplished – if you'll excuse the expression.

The fact that we have not found the stockpiles of the anthrax, VX and Sarin that Saddam admitted he possessed does not imply that Saddam “never” had them — as the BBC misstated last week. It simply means we haven't yet figured out what he did with them. Have they been well hidden? Did he send them out of the country? Or did he destroy them secretly, which would have violated the agreements he signed? In the meantime, we have found evidence that Saddam planned to develop a clandestine capability that would produce such weapons as disease bombs on a just-in-time basis.

One question seldom asked of the anti-war warriors: If protecting Americans and liberating Iraqis were not the main reasons Mr. Bush decided to use military force, what were?

According to Bush's more extreme opponents, he did it, “to seize Iraq's oil fields,” “to make money for Halliburton;” “for Ariel Sharon;” “to get even with Saddam for trying to whack Daddy;” “to distract attention from the economy;” or “for the same reason he put arsenic in the drinking water.”

Bush's more temperate opponents have no answer. And Al Franken's response – “He's a lying liar who tells lies!” – is only good for giggles.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.





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