July 17, 2003
George W. Bush's political foes and their cheerleaders in the press are in a lather these days over the president's prewar claim that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium oxide in Africa. So what else is new? In their perpetual campaign to convince the rest of us that the administration's foreign policy is a disastrous failure, Bush's enemies and their media allies always seem to be in a lather about something.
Let's see. Before the current frenzy over those 16 dubious words in the State of the Union address, there was the frenzy over the inability of allied troops in Iraq to find a weapons of mass destruction "smoking gun" -- stockpiles of banned nerve gas and lethal biological agents.
Before that, there was the frenzy over the administration's failure to prevent the post-liberation pillaging of more than 170,000 treasures from the Iraqi National Museum -- a frenzy that faded when it turned out the real number was closer to 50.
During Week 2 of the three-week Iraq War, we had the frenzy over the Pentagon's supposedly incompetent battle plan and the Vietnam-like quagmire into which US troops were being sucked. That was in addition to the anxious alarums about the hostility with which ordinary Iraqis would greet American troops. Newsweek, quoting Vice President Dick Cheney's prewar forecast -- "We will be greeted as liberators" -- pronounced it, in its April 7 issue, "an arrogant blunder for the ages." On April 9, Iraqis in Baghdad were toppling statues of Saddam Hussein and joyfully mobbing US soldiers.
Before the war began, of course, the frenzy of anti-Bush condemnation was deafening. From a host of Democrats, journalists, and left-wing activists came anguished cries about the administration's "unilateralism," warnings that fighting Saddam would jeopardize the war against terrorism, and repeated demands that the UN inspectors be given more time.
Earlier still, the administration was loudly charged with having failed to "connect the dots" pointing to the Sept. 11 massacre. A media frenzy last spring accused Bush himself of not having taken warning signs seriously. "At the White House tonight," Tom Brokaw began one broadcast on NBC, "the administration tries to cope with a storm of criticism boiling up from the news that . . . a month before 9/11, the President had on his desk an intelligence report that warned of airline hijackings and mentioned Osama bin Laden by name."
The effort to keep "a storm of criticism boiling up" continues unabated, amplified now by a herd of Democratic presidential candidates eager to tarnish Bush's reputation -- and to draw attention to themselves. That last is certainly understandable: According to the latest CBS News poll, 66 percent of Democratic voters still cannot name even one of the Democratic challengers.
But do Democrats really imagine that the way to unseat Bush is to run against the war?
However unpopular Bush and the war to liberate Iraq might be among the leftist Democratic base, both retain solid support among the nation as a whole. In the new Washington Post/ABC poll, 57 percent of respondents judge the war to be worth the costs, 62 percent believe it contributed to the long-term security of the United States, and 72 percent want US troops to remain in Iraq until civil order is restored.
Americans are not dismayed that the United States led a successful war to crush a savage dictatorship. Their opinion is reinforced with every newly discovered mass grave -- the most compelling evidence of Saddam's mass destruction. And their opinion is not likely to change because of anything the president did or didn't say about uranium in January.
That doesn't excuse Bush's use of a possibly bogus factoid in arguing for regime change, and it certainly wouldn't excuse any knowing distortion of intelligence data by his subordinates. Instead of stonewalling, Bush should acknowledge any wrongdoing forthrightly, invoke Truman's famous dictum -- "the buck stops here" -- and apologize.
And then he should go back to focusing on something that really does matter: the momentous process of transforming Iraq from a land of blood and horror into the Arab world's first constitutional democracy.
The new Iraqi governing council made its debut this week, a key milestone on the road to freedom and sovereignty. Its 25 members are a snapshot of the Iraqi people -- they comprise men and women, Sunnis and Shiites, Arabs and Kurds, returning exiles and liberated residents, even an Assyrian Christian and a Turkmen. And the first official act of this new representative council was to abolish Saddam's Baathist holidays and to proclaim April 9 -- the date US forces liberated Baghdad -- as Iraq's new national day.
The council understands: The defeat of Saddam was a very good thing -- good for Iraq, good for the world. The frenzy-of-the-month-club notwithstanding, most Americans understand it, too.