What the President Should be Saying
It's nice that the President is finally ridiculing the ridiculous charge that he lied us into war in Iraq. I, for one, am grateful for any sign of political life from a White House that sometimes seems to have gone into a second term coma. So far, however, the President has been content to pick some very low hanging rhetorical fruit. He needs to hit the Democrats much harder and much more often.
So far the new offensive in the war of words consists mostly of pointing out the glaring contradiction that underlies the 'Bush lied, people died' disinformation campaign. Every prominent Democrat politician had access to the same antebellum information about Saddam Hussein and reached the same conclusions about the danger of leaving him at large as did President Bush. Most of them stated their conclusions about Saddam on videotape.
Assigning all the blame for a bipartisan mistake to George W. Bush is certainly unfair. The unfounded claim that the President initiated a war in bad faith is something much worse than unfair. It is seditious. Democrats are fortunate that the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue isn't as tough as Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln would have Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy and company cooling their heels in jail like many of their Copperhead forbearers. Bush, to his credit, has at least bestirred himself to observe that rewriting recent history to defame our Commander in Chief hurts our war effort and promotes the jihad.
This is good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough. It is not enough to point out that George W. Bush had plenty of company in error when he decided that Saddam Hussein was concealing weapons of mass destruction from U.N. inspectors. Many may have made the same mistake but Bush is primarily responsible for acting on it.
The President must argue that, with or without weapons of mass destruction, Saddam had to go. He must make it plain that all the sound and fury about Saddam's arsenal or lack thereof signifies nothing. Even if we had known for sure in 2002 that Saddam had no unconventional weapons, any minimally responsible American government would have had to take him out. The war in Iraq is a war of strategic necessity. We had no choice about starting it and we have no choice about finishing it on our own terms.
Perhaps our intelligence services grossly overestimated Saddam's unconventional capabilities. (Perhaps they didn't and Iraqi intelligence services concealed them during our long pre—invasion detour through the U.N., but I digress.) We may have been misled about the exact nature of the threat Saddam posed to us. But there is not and never has been any reasonable doubt that he did pose a threat and a serious one.
We were at war with Saddam when George W. Bush took office. During the Clinton years Saddam was winning the war. Our government tossed bombs at him whenever Bill Clinton felt compelled to wag the dog. Steadily, however, the sanctions regime was eroding and the 'international community' was losing whatever will it ever had to keep Saddam constrained. The Bush administration showed up for work and confronted a grim choice between letting Saddam win his long war with the U.S. and rooting him out by force.
September 11, 2001 turned that choice into a no—brainer. After that date we knew and Saddam knew that he could strike a devastating blow against the American homeland merely by supporting the right terrorist. He could strike that blow with or without a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons. He had wealth, weapons technology and contacts with Jihad, Inc, all of which made his capacity for mischief almost unlimited. If, for example, he couldn't build a nuclear weapon at home he might well have been able to buy one at a Nukes R' Us in the former Soviet Union and deliver it to coastal American city care of a cooperative terrorist organization.
We couldn't deter Saddam from making this nightmare scenario a reality because there was no reason to expect that we could ever identify him as the sponsor of any particular attack with enough certainty to justify retaliation. There is fragmentary evidence that Iraqi intelligence was involved in planning both the 9/11 attacks and the first World Trade Center bombings. That sort of evidence is the best one is likely to find in the wake of a covert operation, even an ineptly executed one. With just a little caution, Saddam could strike us with impunity. He knew it, we knew it, and the administration would have been criminally negligent to allow it.
After 9/11 we couldn't leave Saddam free to attack us. We also couldn't let him defeat us. He had defied us for years and we had to make him pay for it. Even if Saddam had not posed a direct threat, we couldn't accept the strategic consequences of losing a war to our most prominent Arab enemy in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
9/11 didn't happen because a small group of terrorists decided to attack us. It happened because hundreds of millions of Muslims, particularly Arab Muslims, wanted it to happen. Osama bin Laden supplied what his culture demands. That culture has to learn to want something better. It must learn to respect us and to fear our anger. We couldn't earn respect in the Arab world as long as we let Saddam play us for fools.
Anyone who considers the facts and still wonders whether invading Iraq was a good idea should glance at a map. Before we invaded Iraq there were three major terror sponsoring states in the Middle East. Today there are only two, Syria and Iran, and we have a powerful army between them. Syria is caught between the Israeli hammer and the American anvil. The Iranian regime is shaken to its foundations by the rise of a democratic Iraq. The invasion of Iraq did far more to promote the defeat of the terror masters than anything else we could have done with the same time and resources.
We didn't invade Iraq on a scavenger hunt for weapons of mass destruction. Our failure to find them raised questions about the quality of our intelligence, but not about the basis for the invasion. We went in to crush a dangerous enemy and begin the long, slow process of reforming a poisonous culture. Our reasons were compelling in 2003 and they are compelling today. The President needs to make that clear over and over again.
Complaining that a lot of Democrats shared the President's pre—war views about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, serves mostly to keep public attention focused on a trivial distraction. The President needs to talk about what we have gained in Iraq and what we stand to gain by holding our ground and continuing to exterminate terrorists there. Those are subjects that really matter and the bully pulpit should be reserved for important subjects.
The descent of the Democrat Party into disloyalty is another suitable subject for the bully pulpit. Nobody who makes the bizarre claim that our invasion of Iraq was unjustified because we found no weapons of mass destruction is fit to hold any office of public trust. People who make that claim are:
a.) too stupid to breathe without a respirator;
b.) so corrupt that they are willing to damage the war effort in pursuit of short—term political advantage; or
c.) actively working to undermine the national interest.
None of the above belongs in public life. Unfortunately there are a lot of professional Democrats in each of these three categories.
Nearly fifty years after Senator Joe McCarthy drank himself to death it is time for the taboo against 'questioning the patriotism' of a liberal to pass from the American political scene. The truth is that most Democrats oppose the war in Iraq because they oppose anything and everything we might do to defeat our Islamofascist enemies. That's unpatriotic and the President should say so.
He should address the nation from the Oval Office look straight into the camera and say:
When I took office in January of 2001 America was already at war with Saddam Hussein. My predecessor was willing to lose that war. His Iraq policy was a slow—motion surrender punctuated by occasional spasms of politically convenient bombing. On September 11, 2001 we learned that we had to take our Middle Eastern enemies more seriously than that. I decided that we had to win our war with Saddam Hussein because defeat would have been too dangerous. We did what we had to do and Saddam is now a defendant not a dictator. Democrats in Congress want to revisit my decision. They call the liberation of Iraq a mistake and demand a timetable for bringing our troops home whether or not our work is done there. In other words, they regret an American victory and want to replace it with an American defeat if at all possible. The party of Harry Truman and Jack Kennedy has been reduced to carrying water and leading cheers for America's deadly enemies.
What the heck? It's not like they can hate him any more than they already do.
J. Peter Mulhern is an attorney in the Washington, DC area. He is a frequent contributor.