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thedrifter
11-18-05, 07:38 AM
Why We Went to War
What if people start believing that "Bush lied"?
BY DANIEL HENNINGER
Friday, November 18, 2005 12:01 a.m. EST

Would Senators Sam Nunn, Pat Moynihan, Bob Kerrey, Chuck Robb, David Boren or Henry M. Jackson have conducted their opposition to President Bush's war policies in Iraq as have Senators Harry Reid, Richard Durbin, Ted Kennedy and Barbara Boxer? The former group stood for the idea of a loyal opposition; the latter stand simply in opposition.

In the past week, President Bush, his vice president and defense secretary have begun to "push back" against the current incarnation of Democratic opposition. And so the political air drips with such edifying words as "lied," "dishonest" and Sen. Reid's conclusive "a vote of no confidence."

Yes, politics ain't beanbag. But there is a larger danger in the Democratic strategy of attempting to make George Bush into the Wizard of Oz, a man whose every statement about threats to American security is fantasy and falsity. Pounding through the media that the prewar intelligence was a conscious lie may incline the American people to believe the whole Iraq enterprise is false, and worse, that the very notion of weapons of mass destruction is also doubtful. The psychology of the big lie can sometimes run out of control.

The administration, inadvertently, may be contributing to the problem. In its push-back week, the president and others have cited prewar Democratic statements of belief that Saddam in fact had WMD, leaving listeners to conclude that Saddam duped everyone. This too undermines belief at the margin that any of that WMD stuff is very real, or a direct threat.

Here is one man's view of why we are in Iraq: We are trying to democratize this country so they don't try to kill us. That Iraqis should "get their freedom" is genuinely good and desirable. But I wish President Bush would say more often that Iraqi democratization is in our raw self-interest. It doesn't much matter to me whether the country we democratize is Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia or Syria. The theory that democracies don't attack other democracies is as strong as such notions get, and what the world most needs now is a new, large Islamic democracy. A democracy, however "imperfect," is less likely than an authoritarian state to detonate a nuclear device in someone else's territory.

I am beyond caring in the least what weapons Saddam held in March 2003. If the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections in Iraq lead to a party-based government stabilized over time by U.S. troops, then the odds fall that a large and wealthy adversary will try--again--to acquire nuclear weapons in the open market. Saddam may be gone, but what isn't gone is the global marketplace and trade in nuclear-weapons material that is the legacy of the infamous A.Q. Khan network.

In a symposium on the Bush Doctrine for the November issue of Commentary magazine, I wrote: "September 11 changed a lot, but what truly 'changed everything' was the revelation of A.Q. Khan's production network for nuclear-bomb know-how." Khan, the father of Pakistan's Bomb, created a commercial network in centrifuge designs and parts and weapons technologies. His nuke catalog flowed through the same global canals of commerce as legitimate goods and reached shipment points in Iran, Libya and North Korea. If a backwater nation like North Korea can acquire nuclear weapons and develop missiles that may soon reach the U.S., then mass murder has gone mass market.

In short, all you need is money; the expertise and material can be bought. There is wide discussion in the nuclear proliferation literature of the incentives for Saudi Arabia to achieve nuclear capability as a hedge against Iran. The Saudi government denies any such intention, as do all nonnuclear nations suspected of trying.

We have a choice: Do we prefer this ability in the hands of democracies or dictatorships? Will the world's civilian populations be safer if nuclear capability is held by mullahfied Iran, Kim-crazy North Korea and Taiwan-obsessed China, or by democratic Brazil (suspected of seeking nukes), Ukraine (inheritor of 5,000 nuclear warheads) or Iraq? (To believe that an untouched Saddam five years hence wouldn't have been back in the WMD game is fatuous beyond description.)

This week, in a not-much-noticed follow-on report from the 9/11 Commission, one finds this statement: "Preventing terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction must be elevated above all other problems of national security because it represents the greatest threat to the American people."

By "terrorists" the commission means al Qaeda. By "weapons of mass destruction" it means nuclear devices--specifically the leakage of nuclear bomb-making material from former Soviet sites. The original 9/11 Commission's report said al Qaeda had tried to get nuclear WMD for 10 years, presumably while bleeding Afghanistan. Al Qaeda now is in Iraq. It is trying to push the U.S. out of Iraq. Some in Washington want a withdrawal from Iraq. If we do that before Iraq is secure, leaving its central provinces and neighboring nations as a jihadist transit point, will the commission's reasonable fears about WMD acquisition by terrorists ease? Duh.

Democratizing Iraq is where the hedge has been placed against Islamic extremism's proven compulsion to annihilate civilian populations--with airliners, humans as bombs and assuredly any WMD they can get--each weapon as morally repugnant as the next. Yes, Iraqi democratization may not work. But it is a bet worth making. As former U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle wrote on this page not long ago, "The paroxysm after 9/11 would be a hiccup compared with the reaction the morning after one or more nuclear bombs caused massive devastation."

Against this, the current opposition spectacle in Washington is not edifying. How did it come to pass that an opposition's measure of a president's foreign policy was all or nothing, success or "failure"? The answer is that the political absolutism now normal in Washington arrived at the moment--Nov. 7, 2000--that our politics subordinated even a war against terror to seizing the office of the presidency.

The winning of the Cold War was bipartisan. The winning of the war on terror is open to question, every hour.

Mr. Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His column appears Fridays in the Journal and on OpinionJournal.com.

Ellie