What if al Qaeda Had Been Hit Pre-emptively?

Joel Mowbray

2/9/2004 12:00:00 AM - Joel Mowbray

Imagine we had known in summer 2001 that al Qaeda was planning a strike on American soil that would claim the lives of thousands of innocents.  Imagine that our pleas for cooperation to the Taliban, the government harboring Osama bin Laden?s terrorist network, were rebuffed.

  Without certain knowledge, but knowing nonetheless that a massive attack was likely?and that the likely date was in September?would the president have been justified in launching a strike at the Taliban to prevent a possible al Qaeda attack? 

  What would the reaction among peaceniks have been had we taken out Mullah Omar and his merry band of thugs before al Qaeda had the chance to hijack four planes and murder 3,000 Americans?  Probably not that much different than they?re reacting to the war in Iraq.

  Think about it: had the Taliban and al Qaeda been eliminated in, say, August 2001, 9/11 would not have happened.  Not only would we have crippled the terrorist network operationally, but at least one of those leaders captured alive surely would have spilled the beans on the pending strike. 

  Before September 11, 2001, any attack on the Taliban would have been, by definition, pre-emptive?something that the left maintains, even after 9/11, is impermissible.  So even if we had known before 9/11 the depths of al Qaeda?s evil and the extent of its operational capability, the critics sniping at Bush?s decision to take out Saddam would not have favored any strike in Afghanistan until after 3,000 Americans had perished.

  With perfect hindsight, peaceniks would nitpick the analogy above.  Saddam was contained, they argue.  He had no weapons of mass destruction, they add.  Though they made these arguments before the war, there is no way they could have known that.  Peaceniks? pre-war contentions, in fact, were nothing more than guesses wrapped in wishful thinking.

  All available intelligence before the Iraq war pointed to Saddam having a WMD arsenal, and history showed that he had a disturbing willingness to use WMDs.  And as his increasingly delusional novels made clear?including one he wrote literally as the world was readying for war?Saddam was drifting further and further from any connection to reality.

  Despite all this evidence, the president never labeled Saddam an ?imminent? threat.  His argument, in fact, was that the world needed to act before the danger posed by Saddam became ?imminent.?

  Yet every war critic?and, of course, the New York Times?has pretended as if ?imminent? was the only word Bush actually used. 

  On this count, one particularly grievous example of journalistic malpractice at the Times deserves special attention.  In an article titled, ?Leaders Sought a Threat. Spies Get the Blame,? the normally responsible Patrick Tyler summarized Bush?s case for war using the word ?imminent? six times?exactly six times more than the president ever did. 

 Tyler even went so far as to claim that the Bush administration ?redrafted intelligence?:

  ?Political hands in both capitals redrafted the intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs - intelligence that had not appreciably changed in years - to make it appear that the threat was no longer merely evolving, but was imminent.?

 But just as the Times piece tries to do, the left is attempting to rewrite history.  The intelligence regarding Saddam may not have ?appreciably changed in years,? but then again, neither had the words chosen to describe the threat.

  Saddam ?will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten times since 1983.?  That quote comes not from Bush or Rumsfeld, but from Clinton?s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, back in 1998. 

  How about this one: Saddam presents a ?particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation.?  Again, not from a Bushie, but from a man wanting to unseat Bush, Sen. John Kerry, in 2003 no less.

  If anything, former inspector David Kay?s recent comments that no WMDs will be found in Iraq vindicate Bush.  Kay directly refutes any assertion that Bush manipulated intelligence or ever asked anyone to lie or doctor reports. What Kay also found, though the media didn?t bother to cover it, was clear evidence that Saddam had duped UN weapons inspectors on the eve of war.

  If the peacenik left finds restraint so commendable and Bush?s pre-emption doctrine so offensive, here?s a good question: Where are the cheerleaders praising Clinton for showing ?restraint? after Khobar Towers, the East African Embassy bombings, and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole when he refused to respond to the gathering threat posed by radical Islam?