Reassessing the case for war

October 15, 2004|By Andrew Cline

IN THE WAKE of U.S. weapons inspector Charles A. Duelfer's report concluding that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, a re-examination of the case for war made by President Bush is in order.

In the first presidential debate, Sen. John Kerry said, "The reason for going to war was weapons of mass destruction, not the removal of Saddam Hussein." Yet before the war, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair consistently stated that Mr. Hussein had to be removed from power and that his holding WMD stockpiles was only one reason this must be done.

Mr. Bush and his prime ally in the war, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, frequently cited intelligence -- from the CIA and foreign agencies, including French, German and Russian intelligence services and the United Nations -- that indicated Mr. Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. How entrenched was the belief that he had WMD? Mr. Duelfer notes that three days before the invasion of Iraq -- which was three months after Mr. Hussein informed his lieutenants that he had no WMD -- the United States received word from foreign intelligence sources that Mr. Hussein planned to use WMD against coalition troops.

Nearly everyone believed Mr. Hussein had WMD stockpiles. But neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Blair rested the case for war entirely on this belief. They based the case for attacking Mr. Hussein on six pillars:

Mr. Hussein possessed WMD (now apparently refuted by the Duelfer report).

He had ties to terrorists, including members of al-Qaida (confirmed by the 9/11 commission).

He had never abided by the terms of the Persian Gulf war cease-fire (confirmed by the United Nations).

He was engaged in a systematic pattern of deception regarding his weapons capabilities (confirmed by the Duelfer report and chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix).

He intended to develop additional WMD programs (confirmed by Mr. Duelfer).

Mr. Hussein's removal would help in the war on terror by initiating the democratization of the Middle East.

In his 2003 State of the Union address, Mr. Bush made clear that he believed war was justified even if Mr. Hussein was not an immediate threat to the United States: "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 will come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option."

This is the essence of the Bush Doctrine, which holds that the United States reserves the right to use military force pre-emptively. That is, the United States can and must act against perceived threats before those threats turn into wounds.

In the first presidential debate, Mr. Kerry said, "The president always has the right, and always has had the right, for pre-emptive strike. That was a great doctrine throughout the Cold War. And it was always one of the things we argued about with respect to arms control. No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to pre-empt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America."

Mr. Kerry appears to confuse pre-emption with unilateral action. There is a tremendous difference. American presidents always have reserved the right to the unilateral use of force. But the Bush Doctrine represents a new step in that it reserves to this country the right to eliminate a threat that is not, to use Mr. Bush's word, "fully" developed.

With respect to Iraq, Mr. Bush clearly and repeatedly stated that Mr. Hussein must be removed from power before his regime posed an "imminent" threat to this country and the rest of the world -- meaning that action was justified even if he was not directly imperiling the United States with WMD as, say, Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev did in 1962. Mr. Blair, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen agreed, as did about 30 other nations that joined the war effort.

Notably, Mr. Kerry does not directly dispute the Bush Doctrine itself. In the first debate, he even conceded that America has a right to act pre-emptively (though it is unclear whether he understood what he was saying). Yet he simultaneously says that the absence of WMD in Iraq proves the war was unjustified. One cannot hold both of those positions and remain intellectually consistent.

Under the conditions Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair laid out before the war, Mr. Hussein's pursuit of WMD and his connections to terrorist networks (not to mention his 12-year violation of the gulf war cease-fire) were sufficient grounds for his removal from power -- regardless of whether active WMD stockpiles were buried beneath the Iraqi sand.

Remove the WMD pillar that partially upheld the rationale for war, and under the Bush Doctrine the rationale still stands on the remaining five pillars.

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of The Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News in Manchester, N.H.

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