Tuesday, July 13 2004
You don’t often find an entire election summarized in one or two sentences, and you’re even less likely to find it on a Sunday morning political talk show. But here it is, from Meet the Press:

Tim Russert: Do you see Bush being re-elected?

William F. Buckley: I don't think that Bush has done anything disqualifying him. He had a lousy intelligence system, manifestly, but nobody thinks that he acted capriciously. I think if we all had been told exactly what he was told, it's pretty logical that we would have proceeded to do what he did.

Ron Brownstein: Look, I think that the Senate Intelligence Committee report does frame what I believe is the central issue in this campaign. And I differ a little with Bill Buckley because I don't think that all Americans agree that any president would have made this decision based on this information. I think that goes to the crux of the choice that they face.

Brownstein is exactly right, and contrary to what he and other liberals in the press might think, it’s the single biggest weakness in John Kerry’s candidacy.

What Brownstein is saying, and what is obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to politics over the last year is that no Democrat – with only one or two exceptions in the entire elected party – would have looked at the exact same intelligence Bush looked at with respect to Iraq after 9/11 and done much of anything - even though they agreed with Bush at the time that Hussein was a serious threat.

This isn’t some wild hypothetical, it’s a historical fact. Ten days after Saddam Hussein issued an edict in October 29, 1997 kicking U.S. weapons inspectors out of Iraq, John Kerry stood on the floor of the United States Senate and said:

"We must recognize that there is no indication that Saddam Hussein has any intention of relenting. So we have an obligation of enormous consequence, an obligation to guarantee that Saddam Hussein cannot ignore the United Nations. He cannot be permitted to go unobserved and unimpeded toward his horrific objective of amassing a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. This is not a matter about which there should be any debate whatsoever in the Security Council, or, certainly, in this Nation."

Kerry went on to argue that the threat Saddam posed was so serious that it justified unilateral military action, if necessary:

"while we should always seek to take significant international actions on a multilateral rather than a unilateral basis whenever that is possible, if in the final analysis we face what we truly believe to be a grave threat to the well-being of our Nation or the entire world and it cannot be removed peacefully, we must have the courage to do what we believe is right and wise."

Only days before, President Clinton had “drawn a line in the sand” with Iraq over the expulsion of U.S. inspectors, saying the U.S and the U.N. had to “be very firm” with Iraq.

The rest, of course, is history – and not a very pretty one at that. Read through this timeline of events and you’ll see that while there were lots of meetings, discussions, debates, and negotiations that offered the illusion progress was being made, problems were being solved, and threats were being dealt with, nothing of any substance really took place.

In the end, after all of the sharp rhetoric, threats and negotiation, the "line in the sand" was washed away with no consequence for Hussein. Saddam played cat-and-mouse with the U.S. and the U.N. for nearly a year before finally booting UNSCOM out of Iraq altogether in August 1998.

The response? On September 9, 1998 the UN Security Council passed yet another resolution “condemning” Iraq’s lack of cooperation with inspectors. Three weeks after that the United States Congress passed (and President Clinton eventually signed) The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, making regime change in Iraq the official policy of the United States government.

Finally, on December 16, 1998 the U.S. launched Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing campaign against military targets in Iraq. Two days after Desert Fox concluded, Fred Kaplan (no rabid right-winger, mind you) wrote:

One question has emerged in the aftermath of President Clinton's four-day bombing campaign against Iraq: What was that all about?

If his aim was to put a dent in Saddam Hussein's ability to produce chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons, the dent was not a large one.

If, as some of the air war's targets suggested, Clinton was trying to destabilize Hussein's regime, he did not hit its foundations hard enough.

Speaking of the Pentagon's estimates of damage, John Pike, a specialist with the Federation of American Scientists, said Saturday night, ''It doesn't look like they did anything on what they said they were going to do, and not enough on what they were actually doing.''

According to the Pentagon's most recent figures, the attacks hit a total of 97 targets over the four days. The strikes damaged beyond repair only a few of the targets - the weapons sites, military headquarters, and industrial facilities that Pentagon planners thought had to be hit to accomplish the mission.

''I'm mystified why they stopped the campaign just as they had amassed sufficient force to complete the job,'' Pike added.

More forces, including another aircraft-carrier battle-group and more than 70 additional combat planes, had just arrived Friday.

''You don't deploy 70 aircraft halfway around the world just so they can fly one combat sortie,'' Pike said.

Iraq's nuclear and chemical materials were not attacked...

In any event, yesterday morning, Hussein, who lived through it all once again, claimed victory - which, from his point of view, might outweigh Clinton's claim that the Iraqi leader stands ''degraded'' and ''diminished.''

It probably won't surprise you to learn that on the very same day Kaplan's article appeared in the Boston Globe, the NY Times reported this:

Sunday in Paris, President Jacques Chirac of France called for a prompt lifting of the oil embargo. His country's major oil companies have for years been eager to return to work in Iraq, although record low oil prices make this less attractive now.

In fact, three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (France, Russia, & China) responded to the limited use of military force against Saddam for his continued violation of UNSC resolutions by calling to lift the economic sanctions against Iraq and disband UNSCOM completely. And that was basically the end of the whole affair.

We've seen the same pattern from most Democrats this time around. First, we saw near universal acceptance of US intelligence estimates (which we've since come to learn were badly flawed), followed by grandiose speeches in late 2002 full of sharp rhetoric and talk of consequences for Hussein, followed by.......absolute and utter outrage at the President of the United States for actually taking action.

I don't think there is any question that neither John Kerry, nor John Edwards, nor any other Democratic candidate who ran for President (except Lieberman, of course) would have aggressively pushed to take out Saddam Hussein. I also don't get the impression that any of them would have had the political will or courage to take such a course of action over the objections of their party or certain allies (you know who I'm talking about) even if they felt it was the right thing to do.

Indeed, far more damning than Bush acting on evidence almost everyone in the world believed to be true is to look at a hypothetical in reverse: What if all of the WMD intelligence on Iraq had been spot on and John Kerry were President at the time and chose not to act because of pressure from his party or the objections of allies? I think most Americans would find that prospect deeply disturbing.

As John Podhoretz ably points out this morning, Kerry let the cat out of the bag on '60 Minutes' Sunday night that the hypothetical I've just described might not be so hypothetical after all. Kerry believed Saddam had weapons, said so, voted in favor of taking action against him, and now thinks the whole thing was a big fat mistake.

Democrats know how terribly weak this makes their party and their candidate look, which is why they must now convince voters that the action Bush took in invading Iraq wasn't based on good faith and a desire to protect the country but on lies and deceit. Simply put, it's the only way Democrats can get the public to swallow the idea that after September 11, 2001 doing nothing with respect to Iraq (and thus leaving Saddam in power despite of our belief that he had WMD, supported terrorists, etc.) was the right thing to do.

And so the full court press is on to use the Senate Intelligence Committee report to paint Bush as a liar (here, here,and here) rather than a victim of bad intelligence. The media certainly seem to be doing their part, chipping in for the cause. Whether the public buys it or not is another matter.

But getting back to the original point, Ron Brownstein is absolutely on the mark: the basic question of this election is whether a majority of voters want to reelect a President who, based on the best information he had at the time, saw a threat and was willing to take action to deal with it, or not. Everything else is just noise. - T. Bevan 1:36 pm Link | Email | Send to a Friend


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