Regarding Iraq: Open Letter to Andy Rooney

Dear Mr. Rooney,

You ask, in your recent “60 Minutes” commentary, for the president to finally flat-out “explain” why we have troops in Iraq. While busy preparing your commentaries, you perhaps failed to hear the president explain this — over and over and over again.

Allow me to try.

  • The world changed for many — apparently not you — after 9/11.
  • Saddam Hussein violated numerous United Nations resolutions following the first Persian Gulf War. Saddam’s military continuously shot at U.S. and British planes patrolling the Northern and Southern No-Fly Zones. He offered $25,000 to families of homicide bombers. We know he possessed chemical and biological weapons because he used them during the Iraq/Iran war, and on his own people, the Kurds.
  • The October ’02 National Intelligence Estimate concluded with “high confidence” — the highest certainty allowed — that Saddam possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. All 16 intelligence agencies contributing to the NIE unanimously agreed on the chemical and biological weapons assumptions, with disagreement only on how far along Saddam was toward acquiring nukes.
  • Weapons inspectors found no WMD stockpiles, leading many Americans to feel that the president either lied or cherry-picked intelligence to lead us into war. But the Robb-Silverman Commission concluded that the president didn’t lie. The bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee’s 511-page report concluded that the president did not lie. The British Butler Commission, which examined whether Prime Minister Tony Blair “sexed up” the intelligence to make a case for war, concluded the PM didn’t lie.
  • Kenneth Pollack, an opponent of the Iraq war, served as Iraq expert and intelligence analyst in the Clinton administration. Pollack writes that during his 1999-2001 tour on the National Security Council, ” . . . the intelligence community convinced me and the rest of the Clinton Administration that Saddam had reconstituted his WMD programs following the withdrawal of the UN inspectors, in 1998, and was only a matter of years away from having a nuclear weapon. . . . The U.S. intelligence community’s belief that Saddam was aggressively pursuing weapons of mass destruction pre-dated Bush’s inauguration, and therefore cannot be attributed to political pressure. . . . Other nations’ intelligence services were similarly aligned with U.S. views. . . . Germany . . . Israel, Russia, Britain, China, and even France held positions similar to that of the United States. . . . In sum,  no one doubted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.”
  • Meanwhile, neighboring Iran defiantly pursues nuclear weapons. Bush reasoned that a free, democratic and prosperous Iraq would destabilize Iran, accomplishing regime change without military force. This would encourage the rest of the Arab world to direct their grievances toward their own leaders, rather than against the “infidels.”
  • We remain in Iraq because, as former Secretary of State James Baker put it, “[I]f we picked up and left right now . . . you would see the biggest civil war you’ve ever seen. Every neighboring country would be involved in there, doing its own thing, Turkey, Iran, Syria, you name it, and even our friends in the Gulf.”
  • Former Secretary of State and informal Bush adviser Henry Kissinger — who knows something about the consequences of cutting and running — wrote, “Victory over the insurgency is the only meaningful exit strategy.”
  • The political aim of our Islamofascist enemies is a worldwide Caliphate, or Islamic world. Renowned Islam expert Bernard Lewis recently reiterated his support for the war: “The response to 9/11 came as a nasty surprise [to bin Laden and his followers]. They were expecting more of the same — bleating and apologies — instead of which they got a vigorous reaction, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. And as they used to say in Moscow: It is no accident, comrades, that there has been no successful attack in the United States since then. . . . [T]he effort is difficult and the outcome uncertain, but I think the effort must be made. Either we bring them freedom, or they destroy us.”

True, 2,800 of our best have died. Any figure above zero is a tragedy. But America — on both sides of the Civil War — lost more than 600,000 soldiers, or 2 percent of the country’s population of 31 million. Of our country’s 132 million, we lost more than 400,000 in World War II, or .3 percent of our population. In the Korean War, we lost 37,000, and the Vietnam War saw 58,000 dead.

Many people say that after failing to find stockpiles of WMD, Bush “switched” rationale for the war. Consider this excerpt from a New York Times editorial about a speech Bush gave weeks before the coalition entered Iraq:

 “President Bush sketched an expansive vision last night of what he expects to accomplish by a war in Iraq. Instead of focusing on eliminating weapons of mass destruction, or reducing the threat of terror to the United States, Mr. Bush talked about establishing a ‘free and peaceful Iraq’ that would serve as a ‘dramatic and inspiring example’ to the entire Arab and Muslim world, provide a stabilizing influence in the Middle East and even help end the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Still confused? Please write back, and I’ll try again.

Sincerely yours, Larry Elder