Overblown whistle-blowing

Posted: Mar 12, 2003 12:00 AM

In the seven-page letter FBI agent/whistle blower Coleen Rowley sent to FBI Director Robert Mueller -- via the front page of The New York Times -- Rowley parroted the antiwar corner's oft-made assertion that a U.S. attack on Iraq "will, in all likelihood, bring an exponential increase in the terrorist threat to the U.S., both at home and abroad."

It's an odd argument that Rowley essentially endorsed: There is no link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, but if the United States attacks Iraq, Al Qaeda likely will attack Americans.

Will war with Iraq precipitate terrorist attacks? French President Jacques Chirac said Monday, "War can only lead to the development of terrorism."

But as White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told a press gaggle last week, critics made the same doomsday prediction before U.S. forces went after the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The anticipated terrorist attacks did not occur.

Alas, the past provides no guarantee that terrorist attacks will not follow a military invasion of Baghdad. President Bush is taking a risk -- but the risk is that a terrorist attack might occur sooner rather than later.

"Whether or not there's war," White House spokesman Ken Lisaius noted, "there are still people who want to attack the United States." Al Qaeda operatives will still be here if we don't go to war with Iraq.

As a U.S. intelligence official put it: "If there is an attack on Iraq, (terrorists) may use that as a pretext, an excuse. They may think that our focus is elsewhere. But that's not necessarily a reason to not take care of our business in Iraq. If you let (the threat of an attack) deter you from what you have to do, you'll never do anything."

President Bush can't let a short-term threat hobble a long-term war. Bush has seen how the short attention span of the United States and United Nations emboldened both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Hussein lost the first Persian Gulf War, then won the diplomatic battles when he essentially kicked U. N. inspectors out of Iraq in 1998, with little consequence. Osama bin Laden took heart when American troops pulled out of Somalia after a deadly ambush.

If attacking Iraq does one thing, it will show Hussein and others that there are consequences when they cross the line too often.

Rowley was a heroine when she blew the whistle on FBI bureaucratic incompetence after the arrest of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. It's sad that she decided to deflate her own stock with this letter. She means well. She has a right to express her opinion, but she shouldn't be surprised if observers are shocked at her lack of understanding of U.S. policy.

For example, Rowley asserted that "the administration's new policy of 'pre-emptive strikes' abroad is not consistent with the Department of Justice's 'deadly force policy' for law enforcement officers."

Wrong on two counts.

As FBI spokesman John Iannarelli pointed out, Rowley's not even accurate on the law enforcement side. "Use of deadly force by law enforcement is pre-emptive by nature. If you're not in a position to do that pre-emptively, you're probably already dead."

I'll add: Pre-emptive strikes are hardly new. Just ask folks in Kosovo, Bosnia and Panama.

What's more, Hussein started this mess by pre-emptively striking against U. N. resolutions essential to keeping the peace -- over and over again for 12 years.