Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

Posted: Jun 27, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Starting in the summer of 2002, our "allies" -- the French, Germans and most of "Old Europe" -- used every forum they could find to stay "the rush to war" in Iraq. Encouraged by massive anti-American protests on the streets of European capitals, President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder repeatedly urged the United States and Great Britain to delay plans for military action against Saddam Hussein until the United Nations's super-sleuth, Hans Blix, had "completed" his search for Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq.

U.S. frustration with the snail's pace at which Blix was pursuing his mission was dismissed as "saber rattling" in Paris, Berlin, Brussels and the U.N. cocktail party circuit. Now, those same voices that preached patience before going to arms are unwilling to wait for a full and careful search for Saddam's WMD stockpiles.

If we are to believe Blix, Sen. Robert Byrd, most of the Democrat candidates for president and The New York Times, significant stockpiles of nerve agents, bio-toxins and nuclear weapons must be found in the next few days, or it's curtains for American credibility.

As might be expected, the amiable, bumbling and soon-to-be-retired Swedish diplomat has become the hero of the moment for the "Blame America First" crowd. As he prepares to vacate his posh digs overlooking the East River, Blix has been conducting a series of exit interviews and soirees in Manhattan.

He's found sympathetic audiences at The New York Times and the Council on Foreign Relations, and is now threatening to publish his memoirs. And he's using the occasions to take a few parting shots at the "bastards" in the Bush administration.

"I have my detractors in Washington," Hans huffed, while courageously claiming indifference. He then whined that "the (Bush) administration leaned on us," told "a lot of fairytales" that were "totally unfair" and accused the administration of believing that the U.N. Security Council is "a hopeless institution." Well, at least he got that part right.

Blix may indeed have his detractors in Washington, but his animosity for the administration is matched in fever and pitch by Democrats searching for the president's Achilles' heel. The cheerleader in charge is West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, who claims that the president is "intent on revising history" and suggests the administration "bent, stretched or massaged" intelligence reports "to make Iraq look like an imminent threat to the United States."

The former Ku Klux Klansman says he wants an "immediate investigation" because "the administration's rhetoric played upon the well-founded fear of the American public about future acts of terrorism," and such statements are "just sound bites based on conjecture."

Blix and Byrd sound a lot alike -- and one wonders if they're suffering from the same malady -- a detachment from reality. Part of that reality is that by the time Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched on March 20, 2003, it was, in the words of one of the Marines I interviewed outside of Baghdad, "the most telegraphed punch in military history."

Saddam Hussein had more than five months to destroy, remove or hide anything he wanted before U.S. and British troops arrived on his doorstep.

But even with all the time Saddam had to dispose of the evidence, there is still much that has been found to validate pre-war claims by the Bush and Blair administrations. In several live broadcasts on Fox News, I reported on the terror-bomb jackets, terrorist training manuals and large numbers of foreign terrorists at Salman Pak. I also showed the chemical protective equipment, atropine injectors and chemical warfare manuals that U.S. forces found in numerous places in Iraq.

Other embedded correspondents described trace elements of chemical agents in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. A thoroughly cleaned bio-weapons lab, found by U.S. Army troops, matched the pre-war description offered by Secretary of State Colin Powell. Significant quantities of Castor beans have been found, which can be used, among other things, to produce ricin -- a deadly biological toxin.

The Blix & Byrd dynamic duo have allies in their effort to discredit the administration. U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as part of his outreach to antiwar Democrats, called for "regime change" in the White House, and now insists that he, too, is the victim of a misinformation campaign orchestrated by President George W. Bush.

"He misled every one of us," Kerry claims -- as he backpedals from his vote in favor of using force to bring down Saddam. The Massachusetts liberal is joined in the attack by ex-Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Florida Sen. Bob Graham -- all hoping to punch holes in President Bush's approval ratings.

Those who seek advantage in trying to diminish the threat Saddam once posed to the United States -- whether it be for personal presidential ambitions or their upcoming memoirs -- may yet want to bite their tongues. This week, U.S. forces turned up more proof that Saddam continued to covertly pursue nuclear ambitions while Blix headed the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The evidence -- hardware and documents -- were found in the backyard of Mahdi Shukur Obeidi, an Iraqi scientist who was at the heart of Saddam's efforts to enrich uranium before the first Gulf War. While this "find" may not be the "smoking gun" critics are looking for, it underscores the belief that Saddam went to great lengths to hide, destroy or relocate his weapons before we arrived. Before we leave, it's more than likely we will find much more.