Saddam Hussein probably believes his war plan is working. Knowing he could not withstand American and British military might, Saddam theorized that the United States and Britain would cut and run if in the post-war aftermath the casualties became unacceptable and Americans' notoriously short attention span kicked in. From his bunker, Saddam must be getting summaries of Western media reports and opinion polls from his remaining sycophants and concluding his triumphant return to power may be near.
Rather than focus on the future of Iraq, administration critics - who include Democratic presidential candidates desperate to bring down Bush's still high approval ratings as much as their ideological colleagues in the big media - concentrate on who said and did what about evidence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
CIA Director George Tenet, who was named to the post by President Bill Clinton, performed an act unheard of in the previous administration by taking responsibility for an erroneous intelligence report that Iraq had sought uranium from the African nation of Niger. However, this was only one of many justifications given by President Bush for ousting Saddam from power. That this piece of information was wrong should not matter. The West knew Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and had used them on his own people. The discovery of torture chambers and mass graves containing the bodies of thousands of Iraqis was reason enough for a free and compassionate nation to stop the murderous ways of a maniacal dictator. Killing people one at a time or by the thousands leaves them just as dead. When civilians are targets, there is no moral distinction when they die from a single bullet or a weapon of mass destruction.
Because the currencies of this administration are honesty and integrity, several things should happen to prevent seeds of doubt from spreading and to keep the upper hand in the debate on whether the war in Iraq was worth it.
Clearly, Tenet should resign or be fired. He failed in ways that contributed to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and he stumbled on a matter of basic intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war. He has hurt the president, and that is an unpardonable political sin for one in a high-profile position. The president says he has "full confidence" in the director. One wonders what Tenet would have to do to enjoy, say, half-confidence.
Then, President Bush should address the nation about questions and concerns raised by his opponents and even some within his own party about his post-war strategy. One element of that is finding Saddam Hussein, which would remove an important obstacle in the effort to restructure Iraq. Additional forces are said to have been assigned to that task and reward money offered. It is not certain whether money will be sufficient to persuade fearful Iraqis to reveal information that could lead to his whereabouts. The president needs to communicate to the public about this and other parts of his plan.
Also, while a congressional investigation may be premature and serve primarily as a forum for Democrats to attack the president for political purposes, the administration must get specific. This includes talking about the cost of the post-war effort in dollars (Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld last week acknowledged that it would be $3.9 billion a month, nearly twice his previous estimate) and years of troop involvement (the recently retired coalition commander, Gen. Tommy Franks, said U.S. troops might have to stay in Iraq for up to four years). Can these forces overcome the hit squads that have been gunning down American and British troops at the current rate of one to seven per day? The country deserves an answer from the president.
Polls indicate public support for the post-war effort is strong but shaky. President Bush's overall approval rating dropped nine points to 59 percent in just 18 days, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. While the poll found seven of 10 believe the United States should keep troops in Iraq, even if it means additional casualties, 52 percent believe the level of casualties is "unacceptable."
President Bush, who has rightly gone on the offensive when it comes to terrorism and tyrants like Saddam Hussein, must now act to keep public confidence high. He cannot be reactive, or events and his opponents will harm his cause and weaken his reelection chances.