Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Paul O'Neill Comments, Iraq's Relevance

Well, it seems as if the Paul O'Neill flap, like much of the Democrat's strategy for attacking Bush, has already lost its steam. It's odd because Bush is vulnerable on several fronts, the opposition just can't seem to hit on them. The latest revelation comes from O'Neill's new book where he says that the Bush administration was reviewing plans to topple Saddam before 9/11, something that should be quite damning, given O'Neill's position as the administration's former treasury secretary. So why didn't it stick?

For starters, after having nothing but criticism for him, the left is suddenly treating O'Neill's words as the gospel. That plays as pretty transparent, however minor. The most crucial factor in why this story died so quickly though is because it is no revelation at all. The Pentagon has a plan to topple just about every regime on the planet should it be necessary. It is their job and it would be irresponsible not to. The Clinton administration knew this:
"We had the same stuff," says a former senior Clinton Administration aide who worked at the Pentagon. "It would have been irresponsible not to have such planning. We had all kinds of briefing material ready should the president have decided to move on Iraq. In fact, a lot of the material we had prepared was material that the previous Bush administration had left for us. It just isn't that big a deal. Or shouldn't be."
Indeed Clinton himself had this to say upon signing The Iraq Liberation Act.
The United States favors an Iraq that offers its people freedom at home. I categorically reject arguments that this is unattainable due to Iraq's history or its ethnic or sectarian make-up. Iraqis deserve and desire freedom like everyone else. The United States looks forward to a democratically supported regime that would permit us to enter into a dialogue leading to the reintegration of Iraq into normal international life.
and this too from our former president:
"The community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists. If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow." (my emphasis)
Have you ever wondered why Bill Clinton has been stunningly silent when it comes to criticizing Bush's invasion of Iraq? He knows what his policy on Iraq was, he was privy to the same intelligence that Bush is and clearly owns much better political instincts than Al Gore, who is now openly criticizing the President's action in Iraq despite speeches like this in 2000:
There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein still seeks to amass weapons of mass destruction. You know as well as I do that as long as Saddam Hussein stays in power there can be no comprehensive peace for the people of Israel or the people of the Middle East. We have made it clear that it is our policy to see Saddam Hussein gone.
...We have used force when necessary, and that has been frequently. And we will not let up in our efforts to free Iraq from Saddam's rule. Should he think of challenging us, I would strongly advise against it. As a senator, I voted for the use of force, as vice president I supported the use of force. If entrusted with the presidency, my resolve will never waiver. Never waiver.
In 2002 Gore reaffirmed these sentiments, even urging a unilateralist approach if necessary:
Iraq does pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf and we should organize an international coalition to eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction. Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to completely deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power. Moreover, no international law can prevent the United States from taking actions to protect its vital interests, when it is manifestly clear that there is a choice to be made between law and survival. I believe, however, that such a choice is not presented in the case of Iraq. Indeed, should we decide to proceed, that action can be justified within the framework of international law rather than outside it. In fact, though a new UN resolution may be helpful in building international consensus, the existing resolutions from 1991 are sufficient from a legal standpoint.
No international law can prevent the U.S. from protecting itself? No new U.N. resolution is needed since 1991? Even Bush went to the U.N. and got another resolution passed, was Al Gore intent on war all along? I don't think so, but quotes like these are a dime a dozen for a reason. The consensus of the civilized world was that Saddam was a serious threat to stability and possessed ambitions for worse. In 30 years of rule he started two wars, (despite near impossible odds of victory) openly supported terrorism against a neighboring nuclear nation, ordered an unsuccessful assassination attempt on a U.S. president, used chemical weapons killing over 10,000 of his own citizens, put 300,000 in mass graves, and generally kept every living Iraqi face down in the mud while he built lavish palaces of gold. The United States of America better goddamned well have a plan in place for toppling this tyrant and the sitting President ought to be thoroughly versed in all regime-change options, including force. Paul O'Neill's comments only indicate that this was being done, he makes no judgment that, pre-9/11, the administration was intent on going to war. O'Neill himself has since admitted as much:
He described the reaction to Suskind's book as a "red meat frenzy" and said people should read his comments in context, particularly about the Iraq war.
"People are trying to say that I said the president was planning war in Iraq early in the administration. Actually there was a continuation of work that had been going on in the Clinton administration with the notion that there needed to be a regime change in Iraq."
I remember seeing a bit on The Daily Show, where John Stewart put together a debate of Bush the Governor vs. Bush the President. Bush the Governor generally took the position of a non-interventionist, that the US should be cautious in engaging in nation building and the like, while Bush the President of course took a solid stance for nation building in the Middle East when making the case for the toppling of Saddam Hussein. The sound bites from Governor Bush could have easily been taken from this October 2000 Presidential Debate:

MR. LEHRER: With Saddam Hussein, you mean?

GOV. BUSH: Yes, and --

MR. LEHRER: You could get him out of there?

GOV. BUSH: I'd like to, of course, and I presume this
administration would as well. But we don't know -- there's no
inspectors now in Iraq. The coalition that was in place isn't as
strong as it used to be. He is a danger; we don't want him fishing in
troubled waters in the Middle East. And it's going to be hard to --
it's going to be important to rebuild that coalition to keep the
pressure on him.
This all seems to suggest that Bush had some multi-lateralist, if not isolationist, inclinations when he took office. There was no sense of urgency to forcibly remove Saddam, to the contrary, when the Bush administration took office they were considering "smart sanctions." That was before 9/11 of course, before the oceans between us were shrunk, before far away threats proved to not be so far away. September 11 forced the American public to acknowledge what we ignored in Somalia, the USS Cole attack, the first World Trade Center bombing, and the US Embassies in Kenya. It forced us to reassess the cost and benefits of removing Saddam versus containment. Bush still chose containment.

Up until early March 2003 Saddam could have cooperated with U.N. inspectors and stayed in power. After all he had nothing to hide right? Inspectors go in, Saddam lets them go everywhere, they come out and give Saddam a clean bill of health. It would have been politically impossible to go to war in this situation and Saddam would have not only survived a second generation of Bush, but also embarrassed him in an international spotlight. Instead though, emboldened by the last 10 years of history as well as the promise of a French veto, Saddam chose to play a shell game with the Unites States. This time he lost.

He lost because the stakes are much higher now, and the events of 9/11 pushed the removal of Saddam Hussein to the level of urgency. As his words above suggest, Bush went through the multilateral channels. He first went to Congress - they overwhelmingly authorized the use of force against Saddam Hussein. He went to the U.N. - they unanimously passed yet another resolution requiring Saddam Hussein to comply with international will or face "serious consequences." Again Hussein chose defiance, and in the end Bush - much like Gore and Clinton before him - decided that the French and Russians would not determine how America would defend itself.

But what does Iraq have to do with the war on terror? There are several reasons why the removal of Saddam Hussein and a democratic Iraq are crucial first steps in this struggle. I don't believe that Saddam had any logistical involvement with 9/11. He was however, clearly a sponsor of terrorism. His cash payments to families of Palestinian suicide bombers as well as his provision of safe-haven for terrorists have been well documented, not to mention the training camps of terrorist organization Al-Answar discovered in northern Iraq. This is to say nothing for that fact that the various leaders of terrorist organizations are or were all loosely related - they just started their own gangs with their own names. (The hierarchy seemingly all crossed paths at some point or another in their youth.) But most significantly they share the same ideology: kill Americans, kill Israel, and subvert women and treat them as second class citizens. Strict fundamental Islam is the only way to live, dissention is not allowed, and those who do not obey suffer prison, torture, of worse. This is absolutely incompatible with a democracy based on individual choice.

Neither should it be ignored that Saddam's regime provided fodder for Al-Qaeda recruitment efforts in two key ways. First, because of concerns that Saddam may attempt to invade Saudi Arabia, or Kuwait again, large numbers of U.S. troops remained there. These were infidel forces, in the holy land, invited to stay by Saudi Arabia.

Secondly U.N. sanctions became a propaganda tool used by Saddam and Osama. It gave both of them a scapegoat for the miserable and dying children of Iraq. Of course he (Saddam) could have had these sanctions lifted at any time, but there was no need to, his personal fortune of hundreds of billions of dollars was immune to them.

U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia, coupled with sanctions against Hussein's regime became perennial hallmarks of bin-Laden's call for Jihad throughout the 90's. U.N. policy towards Iraq became a lightning rod for anti-U.S. resentment, and bin-Laden effectively manipulated these grievances into murderous rage. "The U.S. was only in Saudi Arabia to achieve their goals of world dominance (imperialism) and sanctions were simply an extension of that", said bin-Laden. These two "injustices" of the "infidel" became the key rallying point for galvanizing Muslin anger and bin-Laden was able to manipulate this resentment into a windfall of terror recruiting efforts. Through all of Saddam's defiance of the U.N., his struggles became a cause celebre' for all terror organizations across the region, regardless if they operate under the moniker of Al-Qaeda, Hamas, or Al-Answar.

Shortly after Saddam was toppled though U.S. troops left Saudi Arabian bases, and sanctions were lifted. These conditions are no more. Two major thorns in the side of the Muslim world have been removed, and they will act as tools of Osama's propaganda no more.

The Bigger Picture

We did not invade Iraq so we could invade everywhere else, we invaded Iraq so we would not have to invade everywhere else. That is in essence the long-term solution. That idea has two prongs to it. First is the example it will set. Dictators in the region have taken note as to what the future may hold if international will is continually defied. Lybia is the model example. Ghadafi, who's been a thorn in the U.S. side for 20 years and a well known sponsor of terrorism, has suddenly offered to open up his country to inspectors and abandon his nuclear program. In his own words: "I will do whatever the Americans want because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid."
Every other dictator in the region saw what happened in Afghanistan and saw Saddam being dragged out of a spider hole. It's a pretty clear message to dictators: If a terrorist attack happens again on US soil and originates from your country you will be held responsible. The fact that financial assets have been frozen for terrorist groups has more than a little to do with the fact that there has yet to be another attack on the U.S. soil. We all cringed during the holidays of 2001, and then again when July 4, 2002 rolled around. New Year's 2004 just passed and I don't know if anybody cringed. This is surely a success. Al-Qaeda has been promising another attack for a few years now. They have not avoided one because of a change of heart, but because they can't. With each empty promise comes a dent in recruiting efforts.

The second prong is the first step in the cultural reform of the Middle East. The culture of the Middle East is failed one - that is a reality that everyone must confront. There are no democracies, no human rights, no prosperity, no free press and no hope. It is a once great society now mired in stagnation and intolerance. When certain ideas are not allowed to be discussed they are no longer ideas. A democratic Iraq and Afghanistan are the major first steps to wider Middle Eastern reform. If democracy can be achieved in both of those countries it would be a major blow to terrorism, perhaps a lethal one. Two functioning democracies on either side of Iran will put a lot of pressure on that regime. Iran is a country with a solid modern middle class that is fed up with the mullah's strict cultural rule and obstruction to reform that they promised. They appeared on the edge of revolution last summer, this may be the year. The assumption that Middle Easterners are not capable of handling individual freedom seems nothing short of racist. The same was said about the Japanese, and the same was said about the Germans after WWII. Some in the Middle East will say that democratic regimes are simply puppets of the West, but nothing succeeds like success. Freedom leads to prosperity, humility and hope. It leads to young men to decide that there is something better in life than blowing yourself up in a crowded cafe'.

For some previous related columns from me on the Saddam/Al-Qaeda connection see here.

This is somewhat related too, it's called "The Search for Truth in Iraq." There's much more on this site, not all of related to war, but those were the two that came to mind for whatever reason.

For a pretty thorough, not written by me, article on what is and isn't known about the Saddam/Al-Qaeda connection see here. And for some background on what the Clinton administration thought about the connection see here.
Credit where credit is due most of the above links were found, over a period of time, via InstaPundit. At least, that was probably the starting point, I save interesting links as I come across them.


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