Monday, August 18, 2008

Lest We Forget - Bush as the Consummate Democrat!

Long before Bush Junior was the apple of the Republican Party’s eye, for Bill Clinton and his supporters Saddam Hussein was a priority. They waxed eloquent over both the moral turpitude of this nefarious dictator as well as the international community’s obligation to end his rule and diffuse his threats.

Clinton stated unequivocally in early November 1998 that “Iraqis deserve and desire freedom.” He then signed the Iraq Liberation Act authorizing Saddam’s overthrow. This initiative was supported unanimously in the Senate and by a similarly noteworthy majority of 360 to 38 in the House.

On December 16th, 1998, Clinton--a man liberals revered almost as much as they hate Bush (after all, “Bush lied and our soldiers died”)--presented a powerful plea to the world and the American people. Confirming a four day bombing campaign over Iraq, Clinton argued:

Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons. . . . Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. With Saddam, there is one big difference: he has used them. Not once, but repeatedly. . . . I have no doubt today that, left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.

Vice President Al Gore stated during an interview with CNN’s Larry King:

You allow someone like Saddam Hussein to get nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, biological weapons. How many people is he going to kill with such weapons? . . . We are not going to allow him to succeed

Nor did Democratic opposition to Saddam’s Iraq stop at the White House door. A significant group of U.S. Senators including notable Democrat Carl Levin, Tom Daschle and John Kerry wrote to Clinton pressuring him to “respond effectively” to the “threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its WMD programs.”

The subsequent 4-day Operation Desert Fox failed to dissuade Saddam from his WMD program. Meanwhile, Saddam sized the opportunity to renew his crackdown on any opposition within Iraq. The U.N.’s Oil-for-Food program was also an ongoing failure: Iraqis continued to starve while Saddam built ever more palaces. Saddam skimmed off over 20 billion dollars from the program, much of which found its way into the pockets of his French, German and Russian suppliers. (Small wonder these countries were loathe to confront Saddam in the run-up to the current Iraq War.)

In the mid 1990’s then Joint Chiefs of Staff head Colin Powell developed a plan for a ground invasion of Iraq. In early 1999, the Clinton administration studied a variety of plans to overthrow Saddam’s regime. Saddam’s refusal to re-admit the U.N. weapons inspectors provoked U.N. Resolution 1284, which demanded a new inspection regime and set the U.N. (and, by practical implication, the US and Great Britain) on a collision course with Saddam.

It is often overlooked that when Bush took office in January 2001 the United States had already been at war with Iraq for over 10 years, since the first Gulf War. The United Nations had already approved the military and diplomatic framework to locate and destroy WMD remaining in Iraq, to prevent Saddam from secretly developing further WMD and to protect the Kurds in the North and the Shias in the South from his genocidal dictatorship.

By this time Saddam had killed (by conservative estimates) more than one million of his citizens, brutalizing many more in the process; by using chemical weapons during the horrific Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988, he helped cause the death of even more Iranians. He also used chemical weapons against Iraq’s Kurdish population to obliterate any remaining resistance in the north. In the south, Saddam dealt with a restive (and majority) Shia population by diverting tributaries in the estuaries and marshlands of the unique Shatt Al-Arab delta system, devastating the economic life and traditions of the Shia who had lived there for centuries.

Despite Saddam’s well-known crimes, the tipping point for most of America’s political class was September 11, 2001. In an interview with Dan Rather two days after 9/11, Hillary Clinton presented a determined stance:

“Every nation has to be either for us, or against us. Those who harbor terrorists, or who finance them, are going to pay a price.”

When Bush, strangely slow in rising to the challenge, later repeated Hillary Clinton’s words and sentiments, he was castigated by the world as a warmonger.

Along with Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Saddam’s Iraq had been clearly identified as a Class-A supporter of terrorism. The Clinton administration had often cited Saddam’s ties to terrorist groups, including Hamas, the PLO, Black September, Arafat’s personal guard (Force 17) and Islamic Jihad. For many years, Saddam had provided a substantial reward for every family of a Palestinian suicide bomber. The CIA confirmed in late 2002 (in their report “Iraqi Support for Terrorism”) that:

“Iraq continues to be a safe haven, transit point, or operational node for groups and individuals who direct violence against the United States. Saddam’s intelligence service supported financially Ansar al-Islam whose members were being trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.” (New Yorker, March 2002)

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of al-Qaeda’s top operators found safe harbor in Iraq.

One must remember that over the prior two decades Saddam had not only invaded Iran, but had also occupied the oil rich country of Kuwait, devastating its financial and cultural institutions (not to mention its citizens). Saddam’s reign of terror was the most effective killing machine the Middle East has ever known.

United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) had already detailed Saddam’s extensive biological weapons program in 1995. Thereafter Iraq claimed to have destroyed its substantial stockpile. Yet this was never independently confirmed. The French, German, British and Japanese intelligence services all believed in the high likelihood of remaining WMD stockpiles and mothballed programs that could be re-instigated at will.

We now know these fears were exaggerated, in part by Saddam’s own extensive evasions and bravado, in part by activist Iraqi exiles and opposition leaders. Bush’s inference, it reasonably seems, reflected a consensus of local and international assessments on Iraqi WMD, including numerous Senators and spokespeople from the Democratic Party.

In September of 2002, Democrat Charles Schumer convincingly stated:

“Hussein’s vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons, and his present and potential future support for terrorist acts and organizations . . . make him a terrible danger to the people of the United States.”

Hillary Clinton too waxed eloquent:

“My position is very clear. The time has come for decisive action to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s WMD’s.”

So did John Edwards:

“Every day [Saddam] gets closer to his long-term goal of nuclear capability.”

And even the irascible Howard Dean:

“There’s no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the U.S. and our allies.”

A majority of democratic Senators (including John Kerry) and 81 democratic Congressmen authorized Bush “to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”

Joseph Biden (Democrat) summarized the Party’s consensus at the time when he said,

“Saddam is in material breach. . . . The legitimacy of the Security Council is at stake, (and if) the Security Council does not call for the use of force, I think we have little option but to act with a larger group of willing nations, if possible, and alone if we must.”

Later claims of Bush’s trickery and lies ignore the fact-based position Bush took in reinforcing prior Clintonian affirmations on the subject of Saddam’s threat and the necessity of his removal. In a House debate from October 2002, Nancy Pelosi categorically stated:

“Yes… (Saddam) has chemical weapons. He has biological weapons. He is trying to get nuclear weapons.”

There was really very little that the “warmongers” Bush or Cheney could add.

To remind the Democrats of their pronouncements on the subject of Saddam Hussein would be, to use Al Gore’s inimitable sound bite, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Operation Iraqi Freedom started on March 21, 2003. The WMD stockpiles were nowhere to be found. However, David Kay, the director of the Iraqi Survey Group, confirmed finding dozens of WMD–related program activities and significant amounts of equipment previously concealed from UNSCOM inspectors. There are some who to this day believe some stockpiles were moved to Syria prior to the outbreak of hostilities.

Kay claimed with conviction that “the world is far safer with the….removal of Saddam.” He furthermore concluded that Saddam and his cohorts were willing to sell WMD know-how to the highest bidder once sanctions were removed and that Saddam viewed WMD as the key to his future power.

Those who are bitter about Bush’s decision to remove Saddam do not generally concern themselves with the likely consequences of leaving this brutal dictator in place. All other options had, to that point, failed. One just has to imagine what Saddam’s resources would have become with today’s runaway oil prices. Bush may ultimately have had little alternative than to go to war, considering the groundswell of pressure all around him, including a majority of the Democratic Party.

George Bush said to Bob Woodward in 2004: “My job is to secure America.” President Clinton had stated with appropriate insight six years earlier:

Let’s imagine the future. What if [Saddam] refuses to comply, and we fail to act,...Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, I guarantee you, he’ll use the arsenal.

It does seem, in conclusion then, that George Bush was merely extending the Clintonian philosophy. And if Bush was not in power, in September 2001, then indeed, most likely, it is reasonable to assume the leading Democrat in power would have gone to war, a war that may or may not have been prosecuted more efficiently. But war it would have been.

Published on The Absurd Report:

New Yorker article The Great Terror:

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