In his final press conference, President George W. Bush called failing to find WMD in Iraq a "disappointment."
For many historians -- not allowing a little history to pass before rendering judgment -- this makes him a "failed president." In a 2006 survey of 744 history professors, 82 percent rated President Bush either below average or a failure. Last April, in an informal poll of 109 historians by George Mason University, 98 percent considered him a failed president, and 61 percent judged him one of the worst in American history.
His "crime"? For most of these historians, Bush led the country into an "unnecessary war."
Return to the bad old days immediately following Sept. 11, 2001, when terror attacks killed 3,000 on American soil. Eighty to 90 percent of Americans expected another attack -- on American soil -- within six months to a year. Critics called Bush asleep at the wheel, that he failed to "connect the dots." Never mind that the 9/11 Commission said that former President Bill Clinton blew several opportunities to kill or capture Osama bin Laden.
Let us recall Saddam Hussein, the "Butcher of Baghdad."
Under President Clinton, Congress voted for -- and he signed -- the Iraq Liberation Act, calling for "regime change." Saddam Hussein stood in defiance of several United Nations resolutions calling for him to fully account for his weapons of mass destruction. He certainly possessed WMD, having used them against his enemies and his own people. He continually fired at the American and British planes patrolling the southern and northern "no-fly zones" set up to prevent genocide against fellow Iraqis. In addition to stealing billions from the "oil-for-food" program (to what end?), he sent $25,000 apiece to families of homicide bombers who attacked Israelis. Following Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the U.S.-led coalition's subsequent expulsion of him, we found Saddam much closer to developing a nuclear weapon than our intelligence community assumed. He later attempted to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush. Estimates vary, but Saddam killed, during his 25-year reign, between 300,000 and 1 million Iraqis.
In the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, all 16 U.S. intelligence departments concluded -- with the highest possible level of certainty -- that Saddam still possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological WMD. British intel reached the same conclusion. According to former CENTCOM commander Gen. Tommy Franks, officials in Egypt and Jordan told him that they believed the dictator still possessed WMD.
Bush retained the same CIA director, George Tenet, who served under Clinton. Tenet described the case for assuming the dictator possessed WMD a "slam-dunk." After the invasion of Iraq, Clinton publicly said he thought Saddam still had the weapons. A few months after the Iraq invasion, the former president visited Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, who later said, "When Clinton was here recently, he told me he was absolutely convinced, given his years in the White House and the access to privileged information which he had, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction until the end of the Saddam regime."
True, "weapons hunter" David Kay, sent to Iraq to find the stockpiles, found no WMD. But Kay said that Saddam retained the capacity and the intent to restart his program.
Now let's play suppose.
Bush ignores the nearly unanimous intelligence community. He takes no action against Saddam. The dictator remains in power. The sanctions end. He restarts his WMD program. We experience another 9/11 or worse on American soil. Our intel traces the attack back to Saddam. Congress demands investigations for Bush's "failure to heed the clear consensus of the intelligence community and to take appropriate action." Democrats and many Republicans push for impeachment, based on negligence and malfeasance.
Angry members of Congress quote the February 1998 words of the secretary of State under Clinton, Madeleine Albright: "Iraq is a long way from (here), but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face."
What if we had known before we got there that he possessed no stockpiles of WMD? Would we have invaded? A better question is as follows: Given what the President reasonably thought and the consequences of doing nothing, did he do the right thing?
Osama bin Laden called Iraq the "central front in the war" against the infidels. Gen. Franks said: "The global war on terrorism will be a long fight. But make no mistake about it. We are going to fight the terrorists. The question is: Do we fight them over there, or do we fight them here?"
Support for homicide bombing has fallen dramatically from 2002 to 2007 in seven of eight Muslim countries surveyed -- as much as 74 to 34 percent in Lebanon, and 33 to 9 percent in Pakistan. And support for the extreme "Islamist" parties in Muslim countries, with some exceptions, has also declined. Iraq -- alone among Muslim Middle Eastern countries -- now has a fledgling democracy.
One more thing. We haven't been attacked on American soil since 9/11.