With sleazy hypocrisy practically oozing from his pores, presidential wannabe John Kerry last week sought political gain by exploiting the memories of dead American patriots, saying, ?They were wrong and soldiers lost their lives because they were wrong.?
What Kerry apparently didn?t explain during his interview with the New York Times was about what exactly Bush and Cheney were wrong, or what would have happened differently for soldiers not to have ?lost their lives.?
Perhaps Kerry was assuming people would know what he meant, since he timed the remarks to the release of the bipartisan Senate committee report that was highly critical of the CIA?s pre-war intelligence gathering.
Conveniently ignored was that the senator based his vote to authorize the war largely on Saddam?s past history and his ties to terrorists?intelligence that, contrary to pack mentality thinking, has not appreciably changed since the war. But even if Kerry had based his position on Iraq?s weapons of mass destruction, his vote would still be justified today.
Rather than rehashing the decision to go to war with 20/20 hindsight?something that is only possible, in many instances, because we went to war and subsequently obtained new information?we should first review what we knew then.
The WMD case against Saddam, as of early 2003, was so substantial that it?s hard to know where to start. The most revealing piece of evidence may be whatever it was Saddam refused to reveal to the United Nations weapons inspectors on the eve of the war.
If Saddam had nothing to hide, after all, why would he stonewall the very people who had the best shot to win him a new lease on life? Not only was this obvious to any objective observer, but the former head of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay?a man whose credibility no war critic attacks?determined that Saddam?s minions had duped the weapons inspectors.
Also in the final days before the war, there were large, unidentified shipments heading into Syria. Kay, for his part, does not believe that they contained WMDs, but he admits that they easily could have. WMDs don?t need to be physically big in order to be tremendously lethal, and an entire ?stockpile? could have been carted into Syria in these shipments.
One reason to suspect the shipments contained WMDs is that Saddam maintained active WMD programs. Kay confirmed that the CIA was right on this count, although Kay?s multitude of interviews with scientists and other key figures led him to believe that, for a variety of reasons, the programs were not successfully developing chemical and biological agents.
The former lead investigator did conclude, however, that Saddam had the know-how and ability to develop certain chemical weapons within a matter of weeks. As he told National Public Radio this January, ?But in some areas, for example producing mustard gas, they knew all the answers, they had done it in the past, and it was a relatively simple thing to go from where they were to starting to produce it.?
When dealing with a madman who had attacked two of his neighbors and slaughtered well over half a million of his own people?including with the widespread use of chemical weapons?what is the meaningful distinction between having stockpiles and having the ability to produce WMDs within weeks capable of wiping out tens of thousands?
Even with the value of hindsight, however, the war was not ?justified.? It was necessary.
Kay found that Saddam himself believed he had WMDs, though Kay surmised that the tyrant was misled by those lying to him in order to curry favor. But if the dictator running a closed society?the man in the best position to know the truth?believes he has WMDs, how can any outsider know better?
And though the typical news consumer might not know it, WMDs have been found in Iraq. Discovered so far have been roughly a dozen rounds of mustard and sarin gas, the biological precursor botulinum (stashed in a scientist?s house), and 1.8 metric tons of low-enriched uranium. No ?stockpiles? hardly means we haven?t found anything.
Media groupthink dictates that the case for war has been completely or at least substantially undermined by post-war revelations. But there is a substantial body of largely uncontested evidence.
To recap: Saddam believed he had WMDs, he had ongoing WMD programs, he had the ability to whip up mustard gas in no time flat, he had used WMDs against Iran and against his own people, he duped UN weapons inspectors who could have saved his tyranny, and there were large numbers of unidentified shipments crossing into Syria on the eve of the war.
That is what we know now, after more than a year of exhaustive investigation. The mitigating evidence we have that casts some doubt on Saddam?s WMD capability significantly owes to having free reign of the country and full access to relevant former Iraqi officials. But until we comb every last inch of Iraq?and Syria?it is entirely possible that the CIA was right about Saddam?s WMD stockpiles.
Nothing learned to date, however, changes the fact that Saddam posed a ?grave and gathering threat.? Intelligence is inherently messy and relatively free of absolutes. Assessing threats requires judgment calls, and in a post-9/11 world, common sense leaves only one side on which to err.
In the case of Iraq, the only untenable position would have been inaction.
President Bush said it best in a speech this May: ?So I had a choice to make: Either trust the word of a madman, or defend America. Given that choice, I will defend America every time.?
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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