politics, history and the war on terror
Thursday, July 22, 2004
Presidential Decisions 

Phil O'Connor asks you to Take the Commander in Chief Test, a series of questions designed to illustrate difficult decisions made by American leaders in times of war.   The questions cover American military and civilian decision-making in the American Revolutionary, the Civil War, World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Iraq War.  The available knowledge leading up to the decision to go to war is nicely summarized in the question related to the Iraq War (links have been inserted by me). 

President Bush in early 2003, just months after 9/11 and anthrax. The Clinton administration had indicted Osama bin Laden, citing ties to Saddam Hussein and had bombed a suspected al Qaeda bio-weapons plant in Sudan with ties to Iraq. Czech intelligence insists that 9/11 plotter Mohammad Atta met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague. UN weapons inspectors are being frustrated in Iraq. British intelligence says that Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Africa. Saddam had invaded Kuwait a decade before and had used chemical weapons on his own people. One of the perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing had taken refuge in Baghdad and families of Palestinian suicide bombers were paid by Iraq. The CIA Director, originally appointed by Clinton, tells you "it's a slam dunk" that Saddam has WMD. The French, strongly opposed to war with Iraq, say their intelligence service believes Iraq still has WMD. Russian President Putin, opposed to war with Iraq, tells you that Russian intelligence believes Iraq has plans for terror assaults on the U.S. Most of the CIA's human assets in Iraq have been discovered and murdered. Do you wait to get more spies into the country to confirm the other intelligence? Or do you go to Congress for a resolution supporting the use of force and then use force?
While we may know today that some (but not all) of the intelligence related to Saddam's weapons programs was inaccurate, this was not known at the time President Bush decided to request the use of force resolution from Congress. In fact, many members of Congress had access to the same intelligence as the Bush administration prior to the war resolution and came to the same conclusions about the threat of Iraq's WMD. Their statements demonstrate this (the link contains numerous quotes, I have excerpted a few in the interest of brevity):

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security." -- Hillary Clinton, October 10, 2002

"There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years. And that may happen sooner if he can obtain access to enriched uranium from foreign sources -- something that is not that difficult in the current world. We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction." -- John Rockefeller, Oct 10, 2002

"Saddam Hussein's regime represents a grave threat to America and our allies, including our vital ally, Israel. For more than two decades, Saddam Hussein has sought weapons of mass destruction through every available means. We know that he has chemical and biological weapons. He has already used them against his neighbors and his own people, and is trying to build more. We know that he is doing everything he can to build nuclear weapons, and we know that each day he gets closer to achieving that goal." -- John Edwards, Oct 10, 2002

"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." -- Al Gore, 2002

"We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction." -- Ted Kennedy, September 27, 2002

"I will be voting to give the president of the United States the authority to use force - if necessary - to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security." -- John F. Kerry, Oct 2002

"The threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real, but as I said, it is not new. It has been with us since the end of that war, and particularly in the last 4 years we know after Operation Desert Fox failed to force him to reaccept them, that he has continued to build those weapons. He has had a free hand for 4 years to reconstitute these weapons, allowing the world, during the interval, to lose the focus we had on weapons of mass destruction and the issue of
proliferation." -- John Kerry, October 9, 2002

President Bush took the case to Congress, and the Congress overwhelming supported the use of force resolution. The Democrat leaders quoted (former Vice President, First Lady, Senate leaders, co-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee) had access to the same intelligence as President Bush and came to the same conclusion: Saddam was a threat and had to be removed.  Curiously, after the initial success in Iraq, the Democratic leadership discarded their initial support for the Iraq war and attacked President Bush for lying, misleading, and betraying the American public about the reasons and motivations for war. Would they have made the same decision to go to war in 2002 if they were in the Oval Office?

Knowing what we did after the 9-11 and anthrax attacks, was President Bush wrong for aggressively defending America based on the available intelligence? Look at the other historical examples given in the quiz. Each decision made was fraught with risk and dealt with shaky intelligence. The bold decisions, such as General Washington's Christmas attack in Trenton and General Eisenhower's decision to move forward on D-Day, paid enormous dividends. The timid decisions, such as ignoring the RADAR date during the attack on Pearl Harbor lead to humiliating losses. The cautious decisions for President Bush to make with respect to Iraq after the stunning victory in Afghanistan would have been continuing the failed sanctions, press for further U.N. resolutions and restart inspections. The pilloring President Bush has taken from the Left demonstrates the political risk of attacking Iraq was enormous. But in the climate after an unprecedented and bold attack by al Qaeda, President Bush would have been negligent not to address Iraq based on the information at hand.

Posted by bill roggio @ 12:41 AM