A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Monday, October 06, 2003 :::
What the President Said, and What Kay Found.

The flap over the Kay report is not going to go away, but it is clear that the report does not say what the Democratic Party, or the French (there's a difference?), want it to say.

Neither does it say what the conservative press wants it to say, that everything is the way the President said it was going to be. To see why, it is important to take a careful look at what the President actually said in the famous State of the Union address. You can find the full speech here .

Now that we have a picture of what Saddam was doing, it is remarkable how much of what the President said was accurate, and it is remarkable how far out on a limb he went. It is that limb that is snapping off. The question is whether he can make it clear that in the many areas where he was right, there lies a sufficient reason for the war. This writer believes that there was, but the case must be made.

First, the one thing that President Bush made clear was that we were not going to war because the threat from Saddam was imminent. The President's words on this point bear careful review.

Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam Hussein. It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. We will do everything in our power to make sure that that day never comes.

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

This writer was wrong in assuming that the President claimed an attack was imminent.

However, the President did claim--repeatedly--that Saddam actually had weapons. With the benefit of hindsight, it is painful to see how often the speech could have easily been rewritten to limit it to what we now know to be true: that Saddam was actively deceiving the UN, and had retained the ability to manufacture a wide range of easily deployable and deadly weapons. The monster also kept the equipment necessary to deliver them, and that was apparently in good working order.

But the weapons themselves probably were not. We don't know, and we may never know.

What is true is that we can't find them, and the Ba'ath party operatives have been very effective in thwarting the search. (Remember the pile of smoldering ashes that our inspectors found.) All of the sabotage that we can identify as such has pointed to the basic notion--call it the Ritter Conclusion--that the weapons had been destroyed and Saddam had "merely" kept the ability to restart the program once inspections stopped.

Unfortunately, the President repeatedly spoke as if the weapons were still there. To quote one vivid example,

Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate, or attack.

If only he had said, "to develop the capability to build weapons of mass destruction very quickly."

And of course, the President laid some stress on an "advanced" nuclear weapons program, which turned out not to be true in any substantial sense.

It is here important to remember that opponents of the war were against the sanctions and, some of them, against the inspections. (Hats off the National Review for pointing that out.) Had they gotten their way, Saddam would be at this very moment receiving reports that the first biological weapons were ready. The Kay report quotes one scientist as saying that six months was the fastest they could develop one particular kind of biological weapon from scratch. Other kinds would take longer.

And it is important to remember that at one point Saddam had horrific chemical weapons, and used them with abandon against helpless civilians. So the more radical anti-war position was, at base, immoral, as it provided no way to prevent Saddam from reconstituting the program.

"Six months." Now that is an interesting period of time. It happens to be six months since we liberated Iraq, which is what we did, make no mistake there. But Mr. Kay spoke of the report as being about "our first three months of work." Three months?

The Post, very shortly after the first major battles were completed, ran a depressing story about the sole remaining army unit looking for WMD. If memory serves, there had been three, but, as nothing showed up, the other units had been pulled off. More depressing still, the Iraqis were slowly looting the site being inspected in full view of the soldiers and the Post reporter, without the slightest evidence of fear. The soldiers would have been foolhardy to shoot--they could easily have been overwhelmed--but why were the Iraqis not afraid of us?

And why did it take 3 months after that grim scene for a properly constituted team of experts to arrive in Iraq?

The Pentagon itself has concluded that the search for WMD was not included in the war plans until very late. In the rush to defend the President, conservative commentators have not taken the time to ask why that was.

This writer does not believe, by the way, that we went to war to fulfill Paul Wolfowitz's dreams of building modern nations. Rather, the President was convinced that a strong demonstration of American resolve against tyrants was necessary to prosecute the war against terrorism. That some of his advisors were blinded to difficulties by utopian dreams, there can be little doubt, but they did not control the planning of the war. The President added the bit about reforming the entire Middle East very late in the game--in a speech in February, to the American Enterprise Institute. The State of the Union address, and all of our presentations to the UN Security Council, stressed security and the fight against terrorism. That was the fundamental reason we went to war, and it remains a good one.

Which means that the search for WMD should have been an integral part of the war plan, and was not. It also means that, while we should not have waited for an attack to be imminent, we should have waited until all the war plans were complete.

What is also clear from this report is that Hans Blix, the chief UN inspector, was more concerned about protecting the role of the UN than in stopping Saddam, and did his job very, very badly. To quote the President again,

The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary; he is deceiving. From intelligence sources we know, for instance, that thousands of Iraqi security personnel are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N. inspectors, sanitizing inspection sites and monitoring the inspectors themselves. Iraqi officials accompany the inspectors in order to intimidate witnesses.

That Kay report confirmed this with room to spare and time for a quick refresher. It is too much to hope that Mr. Blix would publicly apologize, but it would be nice if the press ignored him.

So, the President was, perhaps, correct about 75 percent of what he claimed was true of Saddam. Was that enough to justify the war? Almost without a doubt. It was not the approach the President used, and now the American people themselves are not so sure about the war. The Administration needs to make its case again. This is unfortunate, but it is necessary. The main forces that shape public discourse in this country as still overwhelmingly in the hands of the left, and they are not going to let this one go away.

The planning for the war did not match the stated war aims, and now we are in trouble. But we are also committed. Nothing could be worse than failure. The Administration has learned from its mistakes, although it is taking a terribly long time to reach the inevitable decision to send more troops. Actually, the prospects look better now than they have in months. The problems presented by the Kay report must be confronted directly and unflinchingly. "Spin" is not going to do it.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 10:20 AM



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