Reduced to their essence the choices are, according to most Republicans, between “cutting-and-running” or “staying the course”; according to most Democrats, “redeploying to fight the global war on terror” or Vietnam redux. Last week, the House of Representatives had its turn, providing a bipartisan endorsement of President Bush’s Iraq policy. This week, the Senate will express itself.
Critics of our involvement in Iraq have embraced arguments or “facts” that frequently do not stand up to scrutiny. Unfortunately, some of those who continue to support the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime have unnecessarily conceded points to their opponents. As a result, all other things being equal, even if the Senate joins the House in rejecting the Democrat-led effort to set deadlines for reducing our presence in Iraq or withdrawing posthaste, this week’s deliberations may not adequately serve the public’s need to understand the true nature of this conflict and its stakes.
As a contribution to the debate – and an effort to provide quality control on its content – herewith a few relevant truths:
- President Bush did not “lie” about Saddam Hussein’s regime posing a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threat. In addition to the obvious point that the Iraqi dictator had used such weapons against his own people and Iranians in the past, it is irresponsible to ignore the fact that, therefore, he had the know-how and infrastructure to produce and maintain stocks of such weapons.
We now also have evidence – thanks to defector accounts and captured Iraqi documentation – that Saddam engaged in a massive effort to deny us a “smoking gun” by dispersing his WMD before U.S.-led Coalition forces launched their invasion. For example, Georges Sada, the former Iraqi general who was responsible for organizing air-shipments conveying chemical and biological weapons across the Syrian border and into Syrian-controlled Lebanon, has confirmed that such movements occurred.
What is more, even the oft-cited Iraq Survey Group, which found no evidence of WMD in Iraq after the invasion, confirmed that Saddam had plans when sanctions were lifted (an imminent prospect until Operation Iraqi Freedom intervened) to convert some of his inherently dual-use facilities to the manufacture of chemical and/or biological agents. The plans called for such agents to be placed in aerosol cans and perfume sprayers for shipment to the United States and Europe. These are precisely the sort of intentions and terrorist applications for WMD that caused President Bush properly to believe it necessary to act preemptively against Saddam’s regime.
- There is, similarly, no doubt that Saddam Hussein was involved with and supportive of international terrorism. In fact, his regime had been designated a state-sponsor of terror for years before George W. Bush became president, due to the safe-havens, training facilities, intelligence and logistical assistance and arms he provided to an assortment of Islamist and other terrorist organizations.
Some still cavil that al Qaeda was not among the beneficiaries of Saddam’s largesse. Typically, they make much of the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion that there was no evidence of “operational” connections between al Qaeda and the Iraqi despot’s regime. In fact, as the Weekly Standard’s Steven Hayes (among others) has demonstrated, U.S. and allied intelligence have accumulated information about myriad contacts and meetings, both inside and outside of Iraq, between Osama bin Laden’s operatives and those of Iraqi intelligence or its intermediaries. To ignore such associations and their potentially devastating implications would have been irresponsible.
- We will not encourage the Iraqis to “get their act together” by convincing them they will shortly be abandoned to contend with the myriad enemies at home and abroad who wish to snuff out their fragile experiment with democracy and freedom. It is nonsense – not to say insufferably condescending – to ignore a central reality: People like those of Iraq, who have long been traumatized by despotic misrule and the existential threat it can pose at any time, simply will not line up with the cause of freedom unless they have reason to believe it is going to be the winning side.
If the Iraqi people abandon the opportunity we have helped afford them – a chance for a future that is far more peaceable, prosperous and free than anything they have known before – far more than just the loss of an ally and a model for the region will occur. Our mutual enemies around the world, be they al Qaeda operatives, Baathist irreconcilables or the sectarians and their foreign sponsors, will be vindicated in their belief of our susceptibility to defeat, and emboldened to pursue it far beyond Iraq, including here at home.
This is not idle speculation or fear-mongering for short-run political effect. To the contrary, it is the confident prediction and stated goal of bin Laden, the late Abu Musab Zarqawi, Wahhabi imams in Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah and Hamas terror leaders in the Levant and Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, among others.
In short, Iraq is just one front in the larger War for the Free World. Saddam Hussein’s despotism had to be eliminated if our necessary success in that war was to be achieved in the only way it can be: by systematically eliminating the regimes that sponsor Islamofascism and otherwise serve as well-springs of terror. If we are clear about that reality, we will indisputably have a chance to prevail, not just in Iraq but wherever freedom is under assault.