Democrats who think they will ride to victory in November on a tide of outrage against an ill-conceived war foisted on the American public by a President who spun the intelligence available to justify action against a nation that was no threat to the U.S. may be about to get their comeuppance.
President Bush’s critics on the left vehemently reject the President’s contention that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was actively collaborating with Osama bin Laden prior to 9/11 as either a fabrication designed to justify the use of military force to unseat the Iraqi dictator or proof that Bush just doesn’t understand how the world works. While agreeing that Saddam was no friend, they have argued that there was and is no evidence that he had anything to do with al Qaeda’s attacks on the U.S. or that he posed a real or continuing threat either to the U.S. homeland or to our interests in the region.
Their view was buttressed by the conclusion reached by the 9/11 Commission and by our failure to unearth the weapons of mass destruction everyone from the President on down believed our forces would find once they crossed the Iraqi border. In fact, our failure to find these weapons is often almost gleefully cited by Bush’s harshest critics as proof that he "lied to the American people" to get us into a war we don’t seem capable of winning.
Some of his critics within what generally been characterized as the neo-conservative community while disagreeing with the left’s across the board antipathy to action against Iraq, have nonetheless suggested that the President shouldn’t have relied on either the existence of weapons of mass destruction or the argument that Saddam was somehow part of the al Qaeda conspiracy because, in their view, both are beside the point. Richard Perle, for example, during a recent panel discussion on Iraq scolded the President for even making these arguments. In his view, the President could and should have simply argued that since Hussein was hostile to the United States and ran a tyrannical, undemocratic regime that mistreated innocent Iraqi citizens, we were right to remove him and right to stay in an effort to plant the seeds of democracy in a region that could only benefit from our doing so.
The President’s arguments, dependent as they were on intelligence and its analysis, could have been mistaken, but if it is to be assumed that he believed them to be true, they did justify the use of force against the Iraqi regime. It is possible, after all, to be wrong without lying and it wouldn’t be the first time that this nation has acted on the basis of information that has subsequently turned out to be less than persuasive.
The same cannot be said for the neoconservative case for action against Hussein. It is true that Saddam Hussein was hostile to the U.S. and that he was a tyrant. It is even true that the region and its people might well benefit from a dose of democracy, but even though all these things are true none of them individually nor all of them combined would provide sufficient reason to go to war. This justification which is based more on a messianic desire to rebuild the world in our image than in anything even approaching a hard-headed analysis of the sort of threat historically used to justify the use of force by this country, fails on its face.
Consider the implications of the neoconservative arguments. Mr. Mugabe, the crazed ruler of Zimbabwe has made a mockery of democracy in his country, impoverished her citizens and killed his opponents. Zimbabwe is smack in the middle of a region that could certainly benefit from an infusion of democracy and it is unarguably true that a choice between living in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and Hussein’s Iraq would be no choice at all. Still, no one has seriously proposed sending U.S. troops into that unfortunate nation to rescue her citizens from the tyrant who runs the place.
The President’s arguments on behalf of the action he took in Iraq are different in that he could still be proved right. It is conceivable that we could still find the weapons everyone thought he had when we went in or that we could find convincing evidence that he had them and either destroyed them or shipped them off to, say, Syria.
What’s more, evidence could surface and, indeed, may be surfacing that Hussein wasn’t nearly as innocent as Howard Dean and John Kerry would have us believe. After all, it is possible that the 9/11 Commission and not the President was wrong about Saddam and al Qaeda.
That’s what at least one member of the commission may now suspect. Nebraska’s former Democratic senator, Bob Kerrey, seems to believe that recent revelations could prove that Hussein and bin Laden were, in fact, actively working against U.S. forces in the region in much closer touch than anyone outside the Bush Administration has yet argued.
Kerrey has described the recent revelation of an Iraqi document outlining a 1995 agreement between Hussein and bin Laden to conduct "joint operations" against U.S. forces as "very significant." While Kerrey doesn’t seem prepared to believe yet that the documents thus far made public tie Hussein directly to the 9/11 attacks, he says that they "tie him into a circle that meant to damage the United States." He also suggests that as more material comes out, the ties between Hussein and the terrorists who took down the World Trade Center could become much clearer to all.
The folks at MoveOn.org should consider Kerrey’s reaction to the document a shot across their bow from a Democrat who believes that the President may be proved right after all and who suspects that the proof could come to light before November’s elections.
The Bush Administrations prosecution of the war in Iraq has come under fire from Republican and Democratic critics alike. Some of it has been legitimate and some of it results from the nervousness of politicians facing an election in troubled times, but the Democratic left’s arguments against the President could cause a real backlash later this year if, as now seems increasingly likely, evidence comes out making it clear that George W. Bush, and not his opponents, has known what he was talking about all along.