Karl Rove says his biggest mistake was not fighting the “Bush lied” chant.
President Bush’s top political advisor, Karl Rove, said on July 15 that his biggest mistake was not fighting back against Democrats trying to score cheap political points by accusing the President of lying to get the country to support an invasion of Iraq. Rove is right, but another mistake was made: not trying to vindicate the removal of Saddam Hussein using evidence, including Iraqi government documents, that was obtained after the regime’s overthrow. Compelling evidence exists to show that Saddam’s regime was sponsoring terrorists (e.g., Al-Qaeda), had the ability to quickly produce weapons of mass destruction, and the will to use both against its enemies.
The Iraq Survey Group, the task force put together to find out what happened to Iraq’s WMD stockpiles, is often seen as the group that debunked the Bush Administration’s case for war. In reality, its conclusions did not significantly contradict the nature of the threat described by both President Bush and President Clinton. In fact, it demonstrated that the feared nexus between terrorists and those involved in WMD was coming together.
The Duelfer Report, the final assessment of the Iraq Survey Group, states that a former Iraqi intelligence officer testified that the M16 Directorate “had a plan to produce and weaponize nitrogen mustard in rifle grenades and a plan to bottle sarin and sulfur mustard in perfume sprayer and medicine bottles which they would ship to the United States and Europe.” The plot was not launched because of an inability to get the ingredients for the weapons. This substantiates intelligence received in 1998 that prompted the British government to put its airports and seaports on alert because Iraqis were planning to smuggle anthrax into several countries including the United Kingdom inside bottles used for cosmetics, cigarette lighters, perfume sprays, and other apparently harmless items.
The Iraq Survey Group also found that the M14 Directorate was giving terrorist training to Iraqis, Palestinians, Syrians, Yemenis, Lebanese, Egyptians, Sudanese and other nationals at Salman Pak. The site that had an airliner and other Iraqi defectors reported that it was being used to provide training in tactics including hijacking. According to reporter Stephen Hayes, other documents show that Iraq trained 2,000 terrorists each year since 1999 at three camps. The ISG also said that it received testimony that Iraq had tried to recruit a former member of Hamas to kill Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the Western Wall in Jerusalem using an unmanned aerial vehicle loaded with C4 explosives. Detainees later admitted that an undeclared site existed where such vehicles had been produced that ran test flights beyond the range allowed by the United Nations.
The Bush Administration could have saved its own credibility and that of the United States by explaining that the distinction between having the ability to quickly produce WMD and having actual stockpiles is minimal. The ISG confirmed that dual-use facilities had “assets that could be converted for BW [biological weapons] agent production within 4 to 5 weeks after the decision to do so.” One site had the ability to “provide the core of an alternative break-out capability…perhaps within 2 to 3 weeks.” Furthermore, Iraqi intelligence operated “a set of undeclared covert laboratories to research and test various chemicals and poisons, primarily for intelligence operations” and Iraq “intended to develop smallpox and possibly other viral pathogens.”
As for nuclear weapons, Saddam Hussein told his interrogator that he’d restart that program once U.N. sanctions were lifted, which he expected to happen in 2004. Even if they were not lifted, they were becoming weaker and weaker and the day was coming soon when Saddam would feel comfortable restarting his nuclear weapons work. These facts bolster the case for removing Saddam Hussein without even mentioning the possibility that WMDs went to Syria. Satellite photos provide credibility to the testimony of a Syrian journalist who identified three sites they were shipped to.
The first director of the ISG, David Kay, also raised the point that corruption was extremely high in the Iraqi government, leading to a strong possibility that terrorists could purchase weapons from officials.
“There were terrorist groups [in Iraq]…still seeking WMD capability. Iraq, although I found no weapons, had tremendous capabilities in this area. A marketplace phenomenon was about to occur, if it did not occur; sellers meeting buyers…No, Iraq remained a very dangerous place in terms of WMD capabilities, even though we found no large stockpile of weapons,” Kay said.
Iraqi government documents could also have been easily used by the Bush Administration to maintain support for the war and undermine accusations of purposeful deceit. The Iraqi Perspectives Project reviewed over 600,000 documents and concluded that while there was no operational collaboration between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, substantial links existed. They found that “Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al-Qaeda…or that generally shared al-Qaeda’s stated goals and objectives.”
The documents show that Iraq’s links to Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri went back to the early 1990s. Iraqi intelligence met with a representative of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al-Zawahiri’s group, on December 14, 1990. The Iraqi document reads, “We agreed on a plan to move against the Egyptian regime by doing martyr operations on conditions that we should secure the finance, training and equipment.” In 1993, Osama Bin Laden was listed as a “collaborator” in an Iraqi file, which added that “he is in good relationship with our section in Syria.” Other documents from 1993 show that Iraq was contacting jihadists to help “hunt the Americans who are on Arabian land, especially in Somalia, by using Arabian elements, or Asian (Muslims) or friends.” The memo says that the Iraqis were reaching out to Arab forces who previously fought in Afghanistan but relocated to Sudan, Somalia and Egypt, a description that perfectly fits the forces that later formed Al-Qaeda.
One document details a meeting between Iraqi intelligence and Osama Bin Laden in 1995, where Bin Laden asked the Iraqis to broadcast the sermons of an extremist cleric. He also requested joint operations against foreign military forces in Saudi Arabia. Apparently, the Iraqis actively entertained this idea. The Iraqi Perspectives Project found a government manual from 2001 talking about how to overthrow the Saudi Royal Family involving the use of “martyrs.” A Kurdish newspaper published a 2002 document mentioning preparations for a meeting with Ayman al-Zawahiri in relation to a Saddam-approved “revenge operation” against the Saudis. One Al-Qaeda document confirms that some members of the terrorist group had gone to Iraq and that Ayman al-Zawahiri had visited both Iraq and Iran.
One document from 1999 talks about Iraqi intelligence operations to carry out assassinations and bombings in Kurdistan, Iran and the United Kingdom against Iraqi dissidents. Another one refers to plans being made to train Arab fedayeen in 2000. A top-secret letter dated March 11, 2001 asks for “the names of those who desire to volunteer for suicide missions to liberate Palestine and to strike American interests.” In another top-secret letter from 2003, regime officials talk about training Arab jihadists in how to carry out suicide bombings using cars, motorcycles and even camels. Other documents discuss plans to import 500 fighters from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command through Syria, including suicide bombers. Saddam Hussein ordered the Arab fighters to be treated on par with the Iraqi special forces.
Former Justice Department prosecutor John Loftus has been a leading voice seeking to clarify the truth about the threat Saddam Hussein posed despite being a registered Democrat who did not vote for Bush either election. He says that one-quarter of Iraq’s WMD was destroyed by the U.N., one-quarter was sold to other countries, one-quarter went to Syria before the war, and one-quarter of the residual capabilities remained in Iraq but was mostly destroyed, looted or sent out of the country after the invasion.
Loftus also agrees that putting forth the significant evidence of Saddam’s WMD capabilities and ties to terrorism could have shifted public opinion.
“The Bush Administration didn’t make a competent argument to defend its position because they weren’t competent enough to assess the intelligence,” Loftus told FrontPage.
When anti-war critics and politicians seeking to question the President’s integrity took aim at the case for removing Saddam from power, the White House had all the evidence it needed to prove that the Iraqi regime had the means to bring about the most feared disasters. Saddam Hussein had acted aggressively with WMD in the past, and he and his sons were the only leaders to publicly praise the attacks of 9/11, demonstrating an unmistakable sympathy with those seeking to harm the United States in the worst ways. We now know Iraq was also actively planning actions to provoke Israel into a regional war, smuggle biological weapons into the West, and overthrow the Saudi Royal Family by allying with terrorists—three of the most horrid scenarios that policymakers strive every day to prevent.
Karl Rove’s admitted mistake in not exposing the hypocrisy and political opportunism of the war’s top critics is an important part of the public relations failure surrounding the war, but it isn’t all of it. Had the evidence outlined in this article been used, which is only a portion of the entire sum, history would tell a different story about the legitimacy of Operation Iraqi Freedom and U.S. credibility wouldn’t have been in tatters in the aftermath of the failure to discover WMD stockpiles. In a post-9/11 world, the threat that Saddam Hussein posed could not be tolerated—and the world should know why.