Saddam, and 9/11

Posted: Sep 19, 2003 12:00 AM

National Public Radio and the major television networks can scarcely contain their excitement. In what they obviously regard as a huge concession, President Bush noted the other day that "No, we’ve had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the eleventh." Along with most of the Democratic candidates for president, many in the press have been arguing for months that the Bush administration misled the American people by implying a link that did not exist. Put that together with the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, they say, and you’ve got a real indictment.

According to the Democrats’ bill of particulars, the Bush administration -- knowing full well that Saddam was not involved in 9/11 -- nonetheless encouraged Americans to believe he was in order to fulfill some Dr. Strangeloveish neocon battle plan for Iraq. The administration further lied when it offered the existence of weapons of mass destruction as a rationale for war. If what the Democrats say is true, we are dealing with one of the most dishonest and corrupt administrations in history.

But there are a few problems with their analysis. In the first place, no one in the administration ever END ITAL) claimed that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. The president pinned blame for that attack firmly on Al Qaeda. But the president and his administration also clearly stated that the war on terror was not limited to Al Qaeda, that it was a global war that would be fought on many fronts. The Axis of Evil included (in addition to Iraq) North Korea and Iran, neither of whom bears direct responsibility for 9/11 either. And the administration has dispatched troops to the Philippines as well as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Democrats point to polls showing that large numbers of Americans believe there was a link between Saddam and the attacks on 9/11. Now, how could people come to that belief? Perhaps because they’ve heard the uncontradicted reports that Saddam did have ties with Al Qaeda. Or perhaps they were thinking of the fact that he permitted Baghdad to become a haven for terrorists like Abu Nidal and others who lived out a comfortable retirement on his generosity. Or perhaps they were considering that Saddam Hussein paid the family of each suicide bomber who killed innocent Israelis the handsome sum of $25,000. Or maybe they had heard about the 707 Saddam maintained at Salman Pak for terrorists to practice hijackings on?

Saddam the Baathist (Baathism is a kind of socialism) had in his later years seen how the wind was blowing in the Arab world and begun to adorn his terror state with certain Islamic trappings. Cozy relations with Islamic terrorists suited his purposes. They had the same enemies -- Israel and the United States. But, like other Arab leaders, Saddam was aware of the Islamist threat. While the Islamists were at war with the West, they were also casting covetous glances at the secular states in the Arab world. Saddam followed the Sun Tzu logic to keep your friends close but your enemies closer.

The failure to find WMDs by this point is certainly puzzling. But the Democrats and the press -- most egregiously the BBC -- have adopted an interpretation that is simply childish. In Britain and the United States, liberals are charging that the governments of Blair and Bush purposely lied. In Britain at least, Blair’s chief accuser at the BBC, Andrew Gilligan, has himself been revealed to be a liar. But do the U.S. accusers really believe that Bush made it all up? If that were true, why did all of the intelligence services in the world as well as the U.N. Security Council conclude that Iraq did have those weapons? If it were true, why didn’t Hussein invite the U.N. inspectors into Iraq and prove that he had no weapons? Why throw the inspectors out altogether in 1998? Why risk and lose his kingdom for weapons he never had? It doesn’t make sense.

But even if (and it’s a big if) the weapons are never found, are we to conclude that the Bush administration took the nation into an aggressive war for oil or glory or some other goal? The Saddam regime was one of the most ghastly and horrific on the planet. On those grounds alone, the world should be thanking us for being willing to risk the lives of our soldiers to free the country. The regime was also a friend to every enemy of peace in the world. If Saddam had remained in power, gained nuclear weapons, and lived to menace the entire region and the world, President Bush would be condemned by history for failing to act before it was too late. For showing fortitude and good sense, he is condemned only by the small-minded.

(Correction: A previous column stated that the default rate for student loans was 40 percent. That was wrong. The rate reached 22.4 percent in 1990, but was most recently recorded as 5.4 percent. I misinterpreted a fact sheet and apologize for the error.)