Jewish World Review Feb. 10, 2004 / 18 Shevat, 5764

Thomas Sowell

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Weapons of political destruction | The issue of "weapons of mass destruction" is being played for all it is worth as a weapon of political destruction. In fact, it is being played for more than it is worth.

The ultimate question is whether we should or should not have gone to war with the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq. Weapons inspector David Kay's statement that he does not believe that we are going to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has been trumpeted across the land, while his statement that Saddam Hussein was even more dangerous than we thought has been passed over in silence.

Having a President of the United States lie us into a war is not only a disaster when it happens, it is a lasting catastrophe for future presidents and for the country, because a president's credibility is a whole nation's credibility in the world. We have still not recovered from President Lyndon Johnson's lying us into the Vietnam war.

Those who see every war as another Vietnam have tried to depict President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair as having hyped the intelligence reports to justify an unjustifiable war. An investigation in Britain indicates that those who pushed that line at the left-wing BBC were the liars.

The intelligence reports that Bush and Blair saw were also seen by Congressional leaders who proceeded to vote for war. Those who now talk about a need for "iron-clad proof" are talking election-year nonsense when it comes to national survival.

When the planes flew into the World Trade Center, that was iron-clad proof. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, that was iron-clad proof. We cannot wait for iron-clad proof in a nuclear age.

The Manhattan Project that created the first atomic bomb was based on intelligence reports that Hitler's atomic bomb project was farther along than it turned out to be. Should we have waited and risked having Hitler get the first atomic bomb?

What the President knew when he went to Congress for an authorization for war was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in the past, that international inspectors could not account for what happened to all of them that were supposed to have been destroyed and that the Iraqi dictator was refusing to comply with repeated UN resolutions on the subject.

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Was that enough or should President Bush have waited for that "iron-clad proof" we hear so much about? We had already waited for more than a decade, with Saddam Hussein playing cat and mouse games.

Would we have been better off to have had more or better information from the intelligence agencies — especially more agents on the ground to supplement satellite surveillance and other high-tech methods? No question.

But many, if not most, of those in Congress who are now complaining loudly about intelligence failures are people who voted repeatedly to cut the budgets of the intelligence agencies and to restrict their operations. Senator John Kerry is just one of those who crippled these agencies and now complain that they were not effective enough.

Everyone today agrees that we are grossly deficient in the numbers of Arabic-speaking people available to intelligence gathering and analysis. But you cannot now create Arabic-speaking intelligence agents overnight. Neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bush can be made scapegoats for decades of neglect before they got to Washington.

Was the Iraqi war worth it and should we have gone to war if we had to do it over again, knowing what we know now? On net balance, yes.

Among the things that we know now is that you get cooperation in the Middle East after you have demonstrated your willingness to use force. Would Libya have revealed and dismantled its weapons of mass destruction if the Qaddafi regime had not seen what happened in Iraq? Would Syria and Iran have taken a more conciliatory attitude if they had not seen what happened in Iraq?

Negotiations are not a substitute for force. When international negotiations work, often it is because aggressors know what is going to happen if it doesn't work.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One." (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)


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