By Mona Charen: Syndicated columnist
President Bush has made errors, as all humans do, but one thing he has not been guilty of is bad faith. The same cannot be said of his critics. One thinks of those liberals and Democrats who accused President Bush of “lying” about weapons of mass destruction and about ties between al-Qaida and Iraq particularly now, because last week, after an unaccountable delay of three years, the administration declassified and released thousands of documents captured from Saddam’s regime. They offer more proof of what we’ve already learned from other sources: Hussein was in collusion with al-Qaida; he did instruct his people on hiding evidence of WMDs; and he did support worldwide terror.
Before turning to the documents though it is worth pausing for a moment to dwell on the bad faith of Bush’s opponents. The whole world knew Saddam had used chemical weapons at least twice: once against the Iranians and once against the Kurds within Iraq. (He had also threatened to use them against Israel.) The whole world further knew that Saddam engaged in a protracted game of cat and mouse with UN weapons inspectors, first throwing roadblocks in their path and finally expelling them from the country (a violation of the cease-fire agreement that followed the 1991 Gulf War, which required Iraq to account for its weapons and prove that they had been dismantled and destroyed). The entire world also knew the U.S. and Britain had not rushed to war with Iraq. To the contrary, the build-up to the 2003 invasion was lengthy and deliberate, giving ample time to the Iraqi dictator to hide or destroy his WMDs.
And yet when coalition forces failed to find caches of weapons, the cry on the left was “Bush lied.” It doesn’t even make logical sense. Why would Bush want to launch a war on false pretenses? Would he purposely create a political problem for himself? Why? To enrich Halliburton? This is fever swamp talk. Yet it was heard among leading members of the Democratic Party, not just in the MoveOn.org milieu. Nor was it correct to claim, as so many on the left did, that Bush altered the rationale for war after he failed to find WMDs. In a speech to the American Enterprise Institute in February 2003, on the eve of the invasion, the president sketched his vision of a democratic Iraq that he hoped would begin the transformation of the despotic and violent Middle East into something more enlightened and free.
He mentioned “disarming” Iraq by force, but it was far from the sole rationale for war.
Three years in, we are hearing from the summer soldiers. The pacification of Iraq is proving more difficult than anticipated. Even some on the right are throwing in the towel. But as The Wall Street Journal wisely editorialized, the consequences of failure — by which they mean capitulation on our part — would be utterly catastrophic.
The radical Islamists will claim they defeated the United States and chased us out of Iraq just as they defeated the Soviets and chased them out of Afghanistan. And every moderate-leaning Arab and Muslim in the world will shrug his shoulders and give up. It will embolden the terrorists tremendously to see the U.S. withdraw from Iraq. The corresponding plunge in morale at home will rival if not exceed post-Vietnam syndrome. Iran will seize the opportunity to impose a Shiite theocracy on Iraq, and Afghanistan will feel the reverberations and tremble on its still shaky foundations.
Oh yes, the documents. One shows that an official from Iraq’s government met with Osama bin Laden on Feb. 19, 1995, with the explicit permission of Saddam Hussein. When bin Laden was forced to leave Sudan, the Iraqi documents contain a handwritten note saying, “The relationship with him is still through the Sudanese. We’re currently working on activating this relationship through a new channel in light of his current location” (Afghanistan).
The notes also reveal that Osama bin Laden suggested “carrying out joint operations against foreign forces” in Saudi Arabia.
The documents further disclose that the Iraqi intelligence service issued detailed instructions to directors and managers of weapons sites regarding UN inspections. They were to remove files from computers, “remove correspondence with the atomic energy and military industry departments concerning the prohibited weapons” and “remove prohibited materials and equipment, including documents and catalogs and making sure to clear labs and storages (sic) of any traces of chemical or biological materials that were previously used or stored …”